In 2020, a total of 47 Funds managed by the King Baudouin Foundation provided 6.6 million euros in funding for 64 projects for health research. These Funds are working in a very wide range of health domains, including fundamental research to gain more insight into multiple sclerosis and clinical research to improve quality of life for those living with MS, who are often young people.
Funds for health research are usually set up at the initiative of a philanthropist, and they focus on a wide range of conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, rare diseases, rheumatology, cardiology and psychiatry. Thanks to them, KBF’s financial contribution to research has increased considerably in recent years: in 2013 a total of 1.1 million euros were made available by 15 Funds. Seven years later, six times as much support is being provided.
For researchers, these philanthropic Funds often represent a welcome and even necessary addition to the resources that they receive from the government or industry.
Quality of life in multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that often affects people at a young age: some 450 people in Belgium are diagnosed with it each year, and on average they are only 32 years old at the time of diagnosis.
Nevertheless, we still do not understand multiple sclerosis (MS) very well. Support for both fundamental and clinical research is absolutely essential. Fundamental research to improve our understanding of the mechanisms involved in the development of multiple sclerosis could result in earlier diagnosis, improved estimates of disease progression and better treatment. Clinical research can contribute towards a better understanding of the symptoms and can test ways of improving both treatments and quality of life for people with MS.
A better understanding of the development of MS in the brain
Classically, MS is viewed as an inflammatory disease of central nervous system white matter. New evidence shows that MS is much more complex, with anomalies in both white and grey matter in the brain and a reduction in the density of cortical synapses, the tiny structures responsible for transmitting information from one neuron to the next.
Dr. Emilie Lommers (University of Liège) wants to establish a quantitative imaging protocol, combining advanced PET and ultra-high field MRI (7Tesla), to gather different quantitative measures of various markers and reveal the various aspects of the complex MS pathology in the brain. In the long term, Dr. Lommers and her team aim to build a predictive model of disease progression, based on these rich data. This will pave the way to earlier diagnosis and individually optimized treatment.
Research into walking fatigue
Prof. Peter Feys (University of Hasselt) is researching the walking fatigue experienced by people with MS. This is often an early symptom, resulting for example in a systematic reduction in walking speed, leading to a reduced range of action in daily life. Better methods would give a better insight in the effects of treatment. More reliable measurement methods are needed for motor aspects such as coordination problems and also for cognitive factors, to map the effect of different interventions for the treatment of fatigue. Peter Feys is investigating the reliability of some of these measurement methods, in cooperation with the Flemish MS rehabilitation centres. He will also investigate the effect of dance therapy on performance fatigue. The results will improve our understanding of the relationship between motor and cognitive fatigue and the underlying factors causing motor and cognitive dysfunction.
The summary enclosed lists the 64 research projects supported in 2020, including the name of the researcher, the institution where he or she works, a brief description of the research and details of the Fund that is helping to finance it.