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Explaining Multiple Sclerosis (MS) research to public and practitioners

Research undertaken by Professor Woodroofe has impacted on a range of beneficiaries: people with multiple sclerosis (MS), their families and carers, and health professionals, including nurses, physiotherapists and doctors. This has been achieved through an array of innovative dissemination activities involving shared learning among researchers and beneficiaries. Woodroofe's research on MS has been published in leading international journals making an important contribution to the field and underpinning the impact achieved.

The research

Since 1994, Professor Woodroofe’s research has been dedicated to investigating the mechanisms underpinning MS, through more than 25 publications and £1.2 million funding. People with MS suffer from changes to their central nervous system caused by immune cells from their bloodstream. This leads to loss of the axonal myelin sheath and the resultant clinical symptoms experienced by people with MS. Professor Woodroofe was one of the first researchers to report high levels of inflammatory chemokines, used by the body to aid this immune cell migration, into the brain. Further work confirmed the role of chemokines in the disease process in MS.

In collaboration with other researchers, Professor Woodroofe investigated two related classes of enzymes, ADAMTSs and ADAM17. Preliminary studies indicated that the enzymes were associated with increased inflammation in the brain in people with MS. A potential treatment, siRNA knockdown designed to reduce the level of the enzyme, was assessed for therapeutic effects in the mouse model; this showed a small but significant delay in onset of clinical symptoms. The results were presented by Woodroofe at The European Glia meeting, Berlin, Germany in 2013.

A collaboration with neurologists at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (STH), demonstrated the importance of chemokines in research involving MS patients. Patients in clinical relapse had raised chemokine levels in their blood, but in the cerebrospinal fluid of these patients, one specific chemokine, CCL2, level was lower. Evidence from the previous research suggested that this occurred because the chemokine was retained within inflammatory lesions in the brain.

Professor Woodroofe displayed an impressive enthusiasm to communicate her understanding of MS and her research results and its practical implications for people with MS.
Delegate, annual MS conference at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (2009-2011)

The impact

Professor Woodroofe has contributed to impact activities targeted at non-academic MS-related audiences. These activities enabled beneficiaries to gain a better understanding of the context in which biomedical MS research is undertaken. They have informed and stimulated debate, increased understanding and awareness within the MS patient community and healthcare professionals.

MS Life is an annual event organised by the MS Society, with exhibitions and talks on MS-related topics, including research, held in Manchester and in Gateshead. Woodroofe, together with Professors Baker, QMC London and Amor, Free University, Amsterdam, developed a ‘meet the scientist’ stand using their underpinning research in MS to engage the public in activities designed to promote understanding of MS and its treatments. The stand was presented at all four events with over 3,000 delegates. An on-line survey conducted by the MS Society in 2012 revealed that the 'meet the scientist' stand received the highest proportion of positive comments from the event, scoring the top rating within the survey.

Woodroofe’s research group was one of the first to pilot the MS Society Buddy scheme (now The MS Society Research Partnership), which provided an opportunity for people with MS to engage in the practice of science and to inform and shape future research questions. In 2008, three people with MS were partnered with the Woodroofe group. Their exchanges stimulated debate by raising understanding and awareness of research knowledge and insights into MS. This scheme was awarded the Association of Medical Research Charities award for best public involvement programme in 2009.

In 1994, Woodroofe initiated collaborations with consultant neurologists specialising in MS. At this time there was limited MS research within Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, despite a large population of people with MS in the region (2,900 patients). These collaborations encouraged the mutual sharing of expertise and promoted further opportunities for researchers to engage with patients. Six MS-related papers have been published with Woodroofe as main author with clinicians as co-authors. An annual MS conference aimed at nurses, physiotherapists, GPs and neurology clinical trainees in Sheffield has been established by a consultant neurologist, Dr Sian Price. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 Woodroofe and her research group were invited to present their research to around 100 delegates at each event.

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