Stopping MS in its Tracks


Artistic rendering by Hariri Pontarini Architects

Multiple sclerosis is Canada’s disease – one in 340 of us has it and every eight hours, another person is diagnosed.

Here’s the good news. St. Michael’s Hospital will soon be home to an expanded and innovative MS centre. When the BARLO MS Centre opens in 2020, it will occupy two floors and 30, 000 sq. ft. in St. Michael’s Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower. It will offer one-stop care, meaning patients will be diagnosed, treated and given the chance to take part in research – all in a single location. Neurologists, nurses, social workers, neuropsychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and other professionals will provide integrated care.

The centre will have an independent living lab where patients learn how to modify their homes. They will have a gym for exercise, physiotherapy and computers that can help analyze their gait. It will also feature an infusion clinic, so that patients can receive more of the new treatments that have been developed in the last decade, many of which are delivered by IV.

Speaking of new treatments, BARLO MS Centre medical director Dr. Xavier Montalban and his research team announced on May 10 an important step forward in clinical trials of a new drug for relapsing remitting MS. Published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, the research shows the drug, called evobrutinib, reduced lesions in MS patients after just 12 weeks. More importantly, those reductions were maintained through week 48, with minimal side effects. In fact, 92 per cent of patients remained relapse-free over the 48-week study period.

While the drug still needs more testing, this is very encouraging – and timely – news: May is MS month. In recognition of this, and of our ambitious new centre, we offer words of inspiration from some of our top MS experts.

“It’s important to have a team of MS experts, because today we can do more than hold patients’ hands…I’ve had patients who felt their lives were over. I tell them, ‘No, it isn’t, you can have a full life and realize your dreams and we will be there with you, along the way.’’” Dr. Marika Hohol, BARLO MS Centre neurologist

“We have an opportunity, which I can only describe as a dream. This is not going to happen twice. To have the right country, the right city, the right hospital, 7,000 patients we are providing care to and generous donors by our side – I am very aware that this will not happen again. Joining St. Michael’s is a great responsibility, but it is also a great opportunity.”
- Neurologist Dr. Xavier Montalban, BARLO MS Centre medical director

"Although we’ve made tremendous progress in the field of MS in the past few decades, there is still much to be learned, and much that needs to be done.  In recent years, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of teamwork on an international level. Clinicians, scientists, and people living with MS are coming together globally, with the shared goal of developing more effective treatments for people living with MS. With this team-based approach, I am hopeful and confident that we will be able to substantially improve the lives of people living with MS in the years to come."
-  Dr. Jiwon Oh, BARLO MS Centre neurologist and researcher

“We have come such a long way in treating MS in the last 10 years alone. We have new therapies that are more and more effective – so effective that I can see a future in which we diagnose patients after their first attack, treat them, and then they never have another attack. For many patients, this will be enough to prevent long-term disability.  For other patients, research is targeting pathways that contribute to accumulation of disability. Within the next 10 to 20 years we could reach a place where we can permanently arrest the disease soon after diagnosis.”
- Dr. Dalia Rotstein, BARLO MS Centre neurologist and researcher

“Patients think we’ll solve their problems. But all we are doing is bringing out the strengths they already have. That’s my driving vision – to provide support while focusing and highlighting patients on their own strength. I also work hard to show them how much MS treatment and research have advanced and keep advancing. The sense of hope I instill is more and more real each day.” 
- Mari Vella, BARLO MS Centre social worker.

“When I started here about seven years ago, we had nowhere to send patients with complex needs for rehab in a timely manner. Today, we are able to send MS patients for urgent in-patient rehab to Providence and wait times are reduced.”
- Cecilia Wan, BARLO MS Centre occupational therapist