Piggy bank being filled with sumaria flowers floating down to fill it

The Sumaira Foundation Distributes Five $25,000 Research Grants

The Sumaira Foundation recently announced that it has awarded five grants, each in the amount of $25,000, to further research into NMOSD and other similar inflammatory neurological conditions.

The Sumaira Foundation's SPARK grants

The Sumaira Foundation's SPARK grants program serves to fund "clinical, translational and basic researchers with experience in the field of NMOSD and autoimmune diseases, who are affiliated with academic institutions in the United States."1 The application and review process for SPARK grants is rigorous and requires that applicants be experienced in patient care and research for those living with NMOSD.

How does TSF decide who is awarded grants?

The Sumaira Foundation's Grant Committee is comprised of "external peer reviewers who lend their expertise and time to reviewing and assessing applications for TSF awards."1 The Grant Committee uses pre-determined criteria to make decisions about who is awarded a grant, and they are the sole decision-making authority when it comes to grantmaking.

Who are the recipients of this year's SPARK grants?

Let's take some time to talk about the 2021 Sumaira Foundation grant recipients.

Children's Hospital of Los Angeles

The Children's Hospital of Los Angeles' Nusrat Ahsan, MD was awarded a $25,000 grant to study HLA association in pediatric MOG-AD, NMOSD, and ADEM. What does this mean, exactly? According to researchers, HLA, or human leukocyte antigens "are genes that help code for proteins [and] play a significant role in disease and immune defense. They are beneficial to the immune system but can also have detrimental effects. Additionally, they play a role in autoimmunity and continue to be the target of researchers for their further effects and interactions."2 The goals of this grant are to "determine the presence of HLA association in pediatric-onset MOG-AD, NMOSD, and ADEM," and "to determine HLA association’s role in relapse."1

Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine's May Han, MD was awarded a $25,000 grant to study how "blood biomarkers predict cognitive impairment in NMOSD." What does this mean, exactly? The CDC describes cognitive impairment as an experience when "a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life."3 Stanford Medicine recognizes cognitive impairment as a “potentially debilitating disease feature,” that was not previously recognized as being a part of the NMO lived experience. Stanford Medicine will be studying who, among those living with NMO, gets cognitive impairment, when, what causes it, and the specific immune cell types that may correlate with cognitive impairment.

Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts General Hospital's Farrah Mateen, MD, Ph.D. has received a $25,000 grant to "depict the impact of neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) on employment, job loss, and work hours in a multi-country prospective survey-based study of people living with NMOSD."1 As we know, those who live with NMO face disproportionate challenges in maintaining employment due to the nature of their condition. Dr. Mateen's work will allow us to better understand the true impacts of this experience.

Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine's Jamie McDonald, MD, MSc was awarded a $25,000 grant to explore "MOG IgG titer and its association with clinical outcomes and immune profiles."1 What does this mean, exactly? According to researchers, "antibodies to myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG-IgG) have been suggested to play a role in a subset of patients with neuromyelitis optica and related disorders."4 The goals of the grant include "to determine if MOG IgG positivity or titer predicts index event severity or relapse," and "to correlate MOG IgG serostatus with serum and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) immune profiles to inform immunopathogenesis and treatment."1

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Johns Hopkins Medicine's Elias Sotirchos, MD was awarded a $25,000 grant to conduct an "in vivo assessment of retinal vascular integrity in NMOSD and MOG-AD." The goals of this grant include "[assessing] correlations of retinal vascular plexus densities with visual function in NMOSD, MOG-AD, and MS eyes" and "to compare retinal vascular plexus densities between eyes without a history of optic neuritis from patients with NMOSD, MOG-AD, MS, and controls."1

This is exciting!

It's so incredibly exciting and encouraging to see funds invested in NMO-related research. NMO remains a rare, chronic condition, about which so much is unknown. These research grants will serve to further our understanding of NMO and, hopefully, how we can treat it.

To read all about this year's Sumaira Foundation SPARK grants, visit their website by clicking here.

How do you hope the landscape of NMO changes in the next several years?

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