An Interview with Dr. Haley E. Titus on MS Research & Progress

I’m excited to introduce you all to Dr. Haley Titus, a Neuroimmunologist and Post-Doctoral Fellow at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She’s also a member of the National MS Society’s Multiple Solutions board (which is how we initially met), a dedicated philanthropist, and has made it her goal in life to help cure MS in her lifetime.

A few months ago, Dr. Haley Titus provided an update to National MS Society board members on the progress that’s been done relating to MS research and lofty goals for a cure. In our interview below, she addresses not only what’s being done to stop MS but also what’s being done to repair the damage that’s already done to those with MS. Currently, there are many medications to stop the progression of the disease but nothing out yet to help repair, so this felt huge to me.  I felt so hopeful after that update that I wanted to share her promising updates with the larger community here.

A little background..

Dr. Haley E Titus was on Cincinnati Magazine’s “One’s to Watch” as a MS Crusader in their 2015 Future’s Publication before she moved to Chicago to begin as a neuroimmunologist National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) fellow at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine last June.  Her personal and professional life goal is to cure MS as her mother has secondary progressive MS.

While discussing her family she shared…

My mother used to:

  • Read but now enjoys books on tape
  • Write but now has personal secretaries (my Grandmother & I)
  • Play the flute and now she enjoys listening to the radio and CDs
  • Drive a car and now has a fancy van with a lift and a driver (my Grandpa)
  • Used to sing, oh wait she still sings just a little slower and in a different key.

Even in the face of an obstacle she always found a way to adapt.  She put on a smile, she was strong, and learned a new way of doing something she loved and wasn’t willing to give up.  This impacted me in the most extraordinary way. She is the most optimistic person I know!Haley Titus

What drives you?

Over the years, through self-reflection, I feel obligated to serve because I have the privilege of being able to.  In order to take pride and ownership in anything you must feel as though you have significantly and consistently contributed.  Every commitment I make is done with diligent consideration for how I can learn and grow as well as the impact I can make.” Haley Titus

Over the last decade Haley has been an active philanthropist as an engaged member of National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Ohio Valley Chapter through fundraising from 2007 and as a Board Member from 2013-2015 and is currently engaged with National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater Illinois Chapter as member of Multiple Solutions Junior Board, and am serving as the Advocacy Chair.

What do you hope to see with progress in treatment for MS in the next 5 -10 years?

“I want a newly diagnosed patient to show up to a neurologist and for the neurologist to say “don’t worry we have medicine for that”.  My goal is to make that progress happen!” Haley Titus

What has the NMSS been doing to accelerate breakthroughs?  

A LOT

MS NOW (No Opportunity Wasted) Campaign: STOP MS in it’s tracks, RESTORE what’s been lost, END MS forever

  • $250 million in funding for research in the last 5 years
  • Our CEO Cyndi is the Chair of the Progressive MS Alliance (US, Canada, UK, Australia, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Ireland, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, and Netherlands)

So how do we target these lofty goals?

“ To STOP MS in it’s tracks we must target the autoimmune attacks and promote repair to store damage”

“We are very fortunate to currently have a dozen disease modifying therapies (DMT’s) that target the immune system for relapsing remitting MS, however, these drugs “sledgehammer” whole parts of the immune system that may be needed for other important functions such as fighting off viruses and regulating bacteria.

There are millions of “flavors” of receptors on immune cells that can recognize different substances (antigens) that provoke an immune response. In MS the antigens are myelin proteins.  The Miller lab has recently been able to target this very small subset of immune cells (Figure Step I in figure below) while leaving the rest of the immune system in tact.  In pre-clinical models it can prevent disease induction, but more importantly can stop disease progression. We are working on pre-clinical and clinical trials.” Haley Titus

Photo Credit: Dr. Andrew Robinson (S.D. Miller Lab, Northwestern University) .

How do we RESTORE what’s been lost?

“Information travels through the brain as electrical messages from one nerve cell to another in a series of connections that control various functions (i.e. motor control of walking and cognitive control of short term memory).  Similar to an electrical wire, the processes that carry the information are insulated in order to control strength and speed of conduction.  The insulation is called myelin and is produced by surrounding cells called oligodendrocytes that physically concentrically wrap their extensions around axons.  Multiple Sclerosis is characterized by break down of myelin.  This can slow or stop messages; the same as a frayed wire would no longer bring streaming cable into a TV set.

Today, there are no FDA-approved therapies for enhancing myelination despite promising successful pre-clinical testing of several molecules/compounds.  I am currently testing orally available FDA approved therapies with myelin repair potential repurposing.  We are trying to keep the myelin making cells alive (Figure Step II) and promote the brain to make new cells to replace those that have been lost (Figure Step III).

I want patients who have had RRMS and Progressive MS patients to be able to successfully undergo remyelination and see improvements in their quality of life (physical and mental health).  Our field of glial cell biology is a tight knit group of devoted scientists that collaborate and conquer.  I have no doubt that progress is and will continue to be made and I am humbled to be part of it.”

A big thank you to Dr. Titus for your time and insight.. it’s appreciated by so many!

The National MS Society just released a presentation that addresses these items and more if you’d like more information or specifics on modification therapies that address myelin repair. You can find it here.

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