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MS Connect Speakers

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Helen Tremlett
Dr. Helen Tremlett is the Canada Research Chair in Neuroepidemiology and Multiple Sclerosis and Professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada in the Faculty of Medicine, Division of Neurology. Dr Tremlett’s research program is funded through operating and foundation grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the MS Society of Canada, the MS Scientific Research Foundation, the US National MS Society among others. Trained in pharmacoepidemiology and multiple sclerosis with a PhD from Cardiff University, UK. Heads the Tremlett Lab and the Epidemiology in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) research program with the vision of fostering excellence in multi-disciplinary clinical and epidemiological research to advance treatment-related knowledge and improve outcomes in those with MS. Ongoing research studies include: the MS prodrome, safety and effectiveness of the disease-modifying drugs for MS; pharmacogenomics; risk of MS in special populations; impact of comorbidities on MS outcomes; and the gut microbiome and MS.

Over 180 peer-reviewed papers accessible via Pubmed: Team website: Email:

Presentation Title:
Research insights: from the MS prodrome to poop and beyond

This presentation will focus on recent advances in MS research. There will be a brief overview of some of the key findings from Prof. Tremlett’s team at the University of British Columbia. Then a deeper dive into two diverse topics the MS prodrome and the gut microbiome (yes, poop). Recent research has suggested that both the MS prodrome and the gut microbiome may be highly relevant to MS and findings have furthered our understanding of MS.

Dr. Sarah Donkers
Dr. Sarah Donkers is a Physiotherapist and an Assistant Professor of neurology at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research focuses on optimizing physical function and quality of life for persons living with neurodegenerative conditions and includes investigating the role of physiotherapy and physical activity in the management for Multiple Sclerosis.

Presentation Title:
Novel Approaches to Physical Activity and Physiotherapy in the Management of Multiple Sclerosis

This talk will briefly summarize what we know, and are yet to know, about physical activity in the management of MS. Exciting new findings highlighting the role of physiotherapy in MS will be shared. Our on-going research projects on physiotherapy, physical activity and health service delivery for MS will be introduced. This session will end with some pragmatic recommendations based on clinical experience and current research.

Dr. Bradley Kerr
Dr. Bradley Kerr is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Alberta. The focus of research in his lab is aimed at addressing the mechanisms of chronic pain after injury or disease with a major focus on chronic pain associated with Multiple Sclerosis.

Presentation Title:
Are changes in the peripheral nervous system to blame for chronic pain in MS?

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that is associated with significant demyelination of axonal tracts in the central nervous system (CNS). Demyelinating plaques in the CNS underlie the pathological signs of weakness and paralysis that are most commonly associated with the disease. However, a significant proportion of patients with MS also develop sensory disturbances including pain in the distal limbs and/or a form of facial pain called trigeminal neuralgia. In this talk I will present recent data from my laboratory implicating the peripheral nervous system, specifically the sensory neurons that reside outside of the CNS in structures called the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and trigeminal ganglia (TG) that innervate the distal limbs and face respectively, as key drivers of pain in this disease state. I will discuss recent insights into maladaptive changes that occur in the DRG and TG even in the absence of overt demyelination. I will discuss how the plasticity of the sensory neurons in the peripheral nervous system affects pain sensitivity in a specific mouse model used to study MS. Sex differences in these responses will also be discussed.

Dr. Shannon Kolind
Dr. Shannon Kolind earned her PhD in Physics at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, developing ways to measure myelin, the insulating layer that surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB) at the University of Oxford as well as the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. While in the UK, she specialized in developing new methods to image myelin in the brain and spinal cord and making these techniques more practical for use in research. She then returned to UBC, this time in the Division of Neurology, to become an Assistant Professor. Dr. Kolind’s lab is focused on developing a toolbox of tissue-specific imaging techniques. Her multi-disciplinary team employs these multi-modal tools to achieving greater sensitivity and specificity in clinical research; particularly for clinical trials of new therapies. This work is largely focused on multiple sclerosis (MS) and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).

Presentation Title:
CanProCo: The Canadian prospective cohort to understand progression in multiple sclerosis, and Myelin-specific MRI for MS

Over the past three decades, clinical trials of promising therapies for progressive MS have relied on clinical measures of disease progression to test whether they are effective. Unfortunately, because these clinical measures change slowly and are difficult to measure objectively, clinical trials for progression require a very large number of people and long periods of time. Biomarkers are biological clues from the body that can tell us about the state of a disease or the effect of a treatment. Our research team is exploring the loss of myelin as a potential biomarker. We use advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods that can detect and measure structural changes in myelin, which in turn can provide information about disease progression. This project has the potential to reduce the cost and time required to test therapies in clinical trials for progressive MS and to identify people at risk for progression to that would require more aggressive treatment.

I will also introduce a National MS Society of Canada project called CanProCo: The Canadian Prospective Cohort to Understand Progression in Multiple Sclerosis. This initiative will combine information from MRI, immunology and clinical visits for 1000 people from across Canada living with MS over 5 years to help understand what drives progression in MS and help put an end to it.

Susan Hartung
Living Well with MS Panel Moderator

Susan was diagnosed with MS in 2011. Her initial reaction was “tell no one”, and she spent 4 years after her diagnosis coping with symptoms of fatigue, depression, anxiety, numbness and optic neuritis alone.

But in 2015 she volunteered at the Jayman BUILT MS Walk. It was the first MS Society event she ever attended and it was the first time she felt okay saying the words “I HAVE MS” because what she found was an incredible community of people rallying around their loved ones and raising money for a more hopeful future.

That year, Susan joined the Jayman BUILT MS Walk organizing committee, and raised over $5,000 to ride in the MS Bike Tour. She has continued to ride every year for the last 4 years.

Now, Susan acts as the Manager of the Jayman BUILT MS Walks in Edmonton and St. Albert, and manages symptoms of MS by staying active, meditating, seeking counselling, physio, massage and acupuncture services when necessary, and building strong relationships with her medical care team.

Susan’s advice to anyone living with MS: “honor the needs of your body without letting MS define you.”

Bobbi-Jo Atchison
Living Well with MS Panelist

With over 12 years of experience, Bobbi-Jo Atchison has dedicated her career to supporting people experiencing disability and chronic conditions to get active in their own communities. As a University of Alberta instructorand someone who has providededucational workshops for fitness and recreation providers across Alberta, Bobbi-Jo brings a diverse understanding to the field of fitness and physical activity. Bobbi-Jo is also the owner and founder of Equality Fitness & Recreation, an organization that strives to provide equitableaccess to adapted fitness, physical activity, recreation, sport, and wellness services to all individuals. Bobbi-Jo Atchison has a Bachelors and Master’s Degree specializing in Adapted Physical Activity from the University of Alberta. She is certified through the Canadian Society ofExercise Physiology (CSEP) as a Certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP) and is a Recreation Therapist with ATRA.

Valerie Borggard
Living Well with MS Panelist

Valerie Borggard is an MS Navigator with the MS Knowledge Network. Since starting with the MS Society in 2007 in the Edmonton & Capital Region Chapter as the Education and Advocacy Coordinator and later with Alberta and Northwest Territories Division as the MSGPS Coordinator and now with the Knowledge Network, Valerie has supported many individuals with their questions, education and advocacy needs. Valerie is a Registered Social Worker in Alberta and has a BASc degree in addition to other professional certificates. She has over 30 years front line and management experience providing advocacy supports and education for clients and staff in the non-profit sector supporting adults with a wide range of disabilities. Currently, Valerie provides systems navigation for individuals affected by MS and her colleagues throughout Canada. If you need support, assistance or directions to navigate through systems … please reach out to Valerie or any member of the MS Navigator team.

Tiffany LaFleur
Living Well with MS Panelist

Tiffany has established the Dietitian’s role at the Calgary MS Clinic at South Health Campus since its founding in 2012. She has 13 years of experience as a Dietitian with Alberta Health Services and is considered one of the experts in Nutrition for Neurosciences in Alberta. Tiffany is passionate about supporting patients in optimizing their health through nutrition. Tiffany uses the latest research based approaches while focusing on her client’s preferences and needs to support their quality of life. Tiffany has the pleasure of working directly with MS patients in both a clinic setting and by leading cooking demonstrations out of the Wellness Kitchen at the South Health Campus. Tiffany can help connect you with free dietitian services in your area.

Margaret Prociuk, MN, NP
Living Well with MS Panelist

Margaret graduated from Vancouver Community College as a registered nurse in 1986. She went on to obtain her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Alberta in 1993. During her working career, she focused mainly in the area of intensive care and cardiac surgery and returned to University in 2006 to pursue her Master’s. In 2009, she graduated with a Master of Nursing from Athabasca University and worked in primary care prior to joining the Multiple Sclerosis clinic in 2014. The Nurse Practitioner role in the MS clinic is to facilitate patient care and access and support physician work flows as well as research initiatives. Margaret has become an MS Certified Nurse since joining the clinic and was the recipient of the MS Society Professional Care award in 2015.

Patrycia Rzechowka
Living Well with MS Panelist

In 2012, Patrycia was diagnosed with MS after temporarily losing her vision. After her diagnosis, Patrycia made it her mission to ensure that no person has to face MS alone. As the spokesperson for the MS Bike Leduc to Camrose, Patrycia rides in the tour every year and can often be found boosting morale and sharing her experience with anyone interested to learn more about MS. She also serves as Vice-Chair of the Edmonton and Capital Region Chapter Council. Since she was diagnosed, Patrycia has focused her energy on raising awareness of MS through advocacy initiatives, fundraising and even sharing the intimate details of what life with MS can be like through the documentary, MS’ed With the Wrong Girl.