Since the launch of the McDonald fellowships in 2007, we have awarded more than 30 fellowships to researchers from emerging countries such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Hungary, India, Iran, Jordan, Mexico, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Thailand, to spend 2 years training in a centre of excellence in MS research before taking their learnings back to their home country.
Below are some of our recent McDonald Fellowship recipients:
Dr Zahra Nasr from Iran has been awarded the McDonald Fellowship for a project titled ‘Gene-environment interactions: Pesticide Exposure and Risk of Developing Pediatric Onset Multiple Sclerosis’. This project ‘seek[s] to explore the effect of pesticide exposure in the context of genetic variants located in biological pathways leading to immune changes or neurological injury from pesticide exposures that may contribute to increase MS risk.’ It will take place in Dr Emmanuelle Waubant’s lab at the University of California, San Francisco. This fellowship has been made available through the financial support of Fondation d’Aide pour la Recherche sur la Sclerose en Plaques (ARSEP). We are very grateful for this support.
Dr Reza Rahmanzadeh from Iran was awarded the McDonald Fellowship for a project called ‘Myelin/Axonal brain damage and genetic susceptibility in multiple sclerosis: A GWAS-advanced MRI Coupled study’. Dr Rahmanzadeh aims to explore the relationship between genetic risk factors for MS patients and the extent of myelin and axonal damage as measured by advanced MRI techniques. This project will take place in Professor Cristina Granziera’s lab at the University of Basel, Switzerland. This fellowship was possible thanks to the financial support of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS).
Mallahalli Manu from India has been awarded the MSIF-ARSEP McDonald Fellowship. The title of Mallahalli’s project is “the role of exosomes in propagation of gut microbiota signals in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis”. Similar to how bike messengers carry parcels across a busy city, exosomes are small vesicles which carry chemical signals/molecules throughout the body. Mallahalli seeks to understand how messengers from the gut communicate with the immune system in people with MS, and how this affects the disease mechanism of MS. Mallahalli will do his fellowship in Tokyo, Japan with Professor Takashi Yamamura at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry (NCNP).
Majid Pahlevan Kakhki from Iran has been awarded the MSIF-ECTRIMS McDonald fellowship. Majid will be joining Associate Professor Maja Jagodic at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Majid has a keen interest in epigenetics, the field of studying how gene expression (rather than the underlying DNA) causes certain characteristics in an organism. Majid will use this epigenetics approach to understand the mechanisms underpinning disease progression in multiple sclerosis.
Izanne Roos from South Africa has been awarded the MSIF-ARSEP McDonald Fellowship to undertake a project with Professor Tomas Kalincik at the University of Melbourne. Prior to this award, Izanne was working as a specialist neurologist at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban, South Africa. She graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree from the Mandela School of Medicine as the top student in her 4th and 5th years, with a range of awards. Following this, Izanne gained experience in a range of disciplines as an Intern, Medical Officer, and Internal Medicine Registrar, eventually specialising in Neurology at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital and Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine. Here she was responsible for the comprehensive care, and diagnosis and management of both inpatients and outpatients throughout the spectrum of neurological disorders at a quaternary level of care, including outreach at peripheral hospitals. Her project, Treatment Lag in Progressive and Remitting Multiple Sclerosis Forms, aims to characterise therapeutic drugs for progressive MS, investigating a potential lag between the start of treatment and beneficial consequences. Following this project, Izanne hopes to implement newly-learned techniques in her position as a consultant neurologist. Alongside patient care, she hopes to set up Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital as an MSBase cohort, coordinating with other academic units in the country and promoting international collaborative research.
Maria Jose Ulloa Navas from Ecuador has been awarded the MSIF-ECTRIMS McDonald Fellowship to undertake a project with Dr. Vicente Harranz Perez at the University of Valencia. Maria has a master’s degree in Basic and Applied Neurosciences from the University of Valencia. She has undertaken training courses in genomics, microbiology and neurology at the Universidad de Las Américas, University of Texas at Austin and San Francisco de Qui to University. In preparation for her project, Maria successfully developed protocols to isolate oligodendrocyte progenitors. These cell lines were genomically edited using CRISPR/Cas9 and biologically characterised using transmission electron microscopy and chemotaxis migration. This project aims to investigate whether genomic editing of oligodendrocytes can improve their ability to remyelinate injured axons. Success in this project could be translated into the development of new treatments. Following this work, Maria hopes to start a neurobiology research group in Ecuador, continuing research and promoting the teaching of neurobiology at an undergraduate level. One of her key goals is the advocacy of MS, through patient support groups in Ecuador, spreading awareness, and improving diagnosis and treatment.
Ahmad Bijar from Iran was completing his PhD dissertation in engineering and medical image analysis at Universite Joseph Fourier in France when he received a McDonald fellowship to conduct postdoctoral research under the supervision of Prof. Daniel Reich and Prof. Dzung Pham in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Translational Neuroradiology Section (TNS) which is a part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). His project titled ‘Imaging Biomarker Discovery with Advanced Brain Segmentation Algorithms’ will build a publicly available software package that performs automated detection and characterization of MS lesions. Ahmad hopes one day to be able to establish a non-profit organization serving people with MS in Iran by supporting scientific research and promoting education.
Sowmya Sekizar is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She received the ECTRIMS-MSIF McDonald fellowship to continue her work in the laboratory of Dr Anna Williams at the Scottish Centre of Regenerative Medicine. The title of her project is ‘Development of a focal model of demyelination in ex vivo mouse spinal cord slices’ and focuses on developing a new mouse model to better understand the process of remyelination. Sowmya hopes to return to India to continue her research in the field of myelin biology and MS research.
Cristina Marcoci is a neurologist from Moldova. She received a McDonald fellowship to spend two years working with Prof Kenneth Smith at the Institute of Neurology in London. Her project is titled ‘Overcoming tissue hypoxia – a new role for oxygen in the therapy of MS’. After completing her fellowship Cristina planned to do a PhD and continue her career in academic medicine with a focus on multiple sclerosis. Her ultimate aim is to create a Centre for Multiple Sclerosis Therapy in the Republic of Moldova, taking back with her the pioneering research and attitudes she learned from the Queen Square MS Centre in London.
Mahdieh Hadi is a PhD student in Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Tehran in Iran. She received a McDonald fellowship to travel to the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Here, under the supervision of Prof Shohreh Issazadeh-Navikas she was investigating the genetic association and molecular mechanism of FoxA1 transcription factor action with the aim of designing a novel cell-based therapy for progressive MS.
Nakul Shah has a Master’s degree in Biotechnology from India and was working at the University of Roehampton when he received a McDonald fellowship. The fellowship enabled him to continue his studies towards a PhD under the supervision of Dr Robert Busch looking at the role of vitamin D in protecting people with a genetic risk of developing MS. The title of his project is ‘Regulation of expression of MS-associated HLA-DR tissue antigens’.
Arman Eshaghi has been working at the MS Research Center in Tehran, Iran, since 2007. In 2011 we awarded Arman a Du Pré grant, which allowed him to start working with the Queen Square MS group. His fellowship allowed him to spend time as a PhD student at University College London, under the mentorship of Dr Olga Cicarelli.
Jakir Hossain graduated from the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh and is now studying for his research Master’s degree at the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. He is currently working on a research project, ‘Molecular analysis of the axon initial segment in a demyelination mouse model of MS’, under the supervision of Dr Marc Dayenne. His McDonald Fellowship (funded by the USA’s National MS Society) took him to the University of Nottingham in the UK, to work with Dr Bruno Gran on a project called ‘How do infections activate inflammation in MS? Role of toll-like receptor 2.’
Kiandokht Keyhanian graduated from the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Iran, a country where the incidence of MS seems to be increasing. Her work on pregnancy and MS was presented at the American Academy of Neurology Congress and then published in European Neurology. Thanks to a McDonald Fellowship, Kiandokht worked with Dr Tanuja Chitnis at Harvard University in the USA, studying adipokine effects on inflammatory cell gene expression in pediatric MS patients. She said: “I strongly believe that transferring the knowledge and research expertise to my country will be an important step in fighting MS in Iran.”
Miklos Palotai graduated in 2012 and then worked as a research fellow at the University of Szeged in Hungary. He currently holds a fellowship at Harvard Medical School, where he is studying neuroimaging of MS and neuromyelitis optica. The McDonald Fellowship (funded by the USA’s National MS Society) enabled him to continue this research, working with Dr Charles Guttman, looking at the role of different parts of the brain in fatigue. He plans to take his experiences and skills in advanced imaging techniques back to Hungary, to train others and continue working in research. He said: “As a prospective teacher of academic medicine, I will be enabled to teach my Hungarian colleagues how to use and implement the most advanced neuroimaging methods into their research.
Rumaiza Hussien Alyafeai from Yemen travelled to Spain, where she was hosted by Prof Xavier Montalban at Cemcat Barcelona. Her project was called ‘Measuring longitudinal cortical thickness changes in patients with clinically isolated syndromes’. After completing her fellowship in Spain, she planned to returning home to Yemen to continue care of MS patients, implementing a 2 week summer course in MS for interns and junior neurology residents.
Aysegul Dilsizoglu, a postdoctoral researcher from Turkey, spent two years in Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris with Professor Catherine Lubetzki, investigating the role of the Axon Initial Segment (AIS) in MS.
Amir Malvandi, a postgraduate research assistant from Iran, is spending two years at San Raffaele Hospital, Milan under the supervision of Professor Gianvito Martino, investigating ‘In vivo reprogramming of somatic cells into oligodendrocytes as a way to promote tissue repair in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis’.
Runzhe Shu, a postdoctoral researcher from China, travelled to work in Monash University, Australia, with Prof Claude Bernard for two years investigating the use of Human induced pluripotent stem cell derived neural progenitor cells as an MS therapy.