DALLAS – Oct. 30, 2015 – Dr. Elliot Frohman of UT Southwestern Medical Center was one of three researchers on a team to win the 2015 Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The winning team of physician-scientists worked together for almost 10 years to produce novel, groundbreaking, and impactful research about the anatomy and biology of the retina and other structures of the eye in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). In their more than 50 publications, the team has literally “written the book” when it comes to applying optical coherence tomography (OCT), a common and easy-to-use eye scanning technique, to study MS.
“Fundamentally, science has been principally driven by competition,” said Dr. Frohman, who directs the Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology Program at UT Southwestern. “I believe the collaborative work our group has done across our three centers, now expanding into 35 centers around the world, recognizes an iconic moment in science. The winning of the Barancik Prize, I believe, is a validation of the importance of the collaborative work our group is doing in the field of MS and a recognition of a different approach doing scientific research.”
Dr. Frohman, Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, and Ophthalmology, holds the Irene Wadel and Robert I. Atha, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Neurology, and the Kenney Marie Dixon-Pickens Distinguished Professorship in Multiple Sclerosis Research. Dr. Frohman is also adjunct Professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences as well as Professor of BioEngineering and Computer Science at UT Dallas.
Dr. Laura Balcer of New York University Langone Medical Center and Dr. Peter Calabresi of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine are the other members of the prize-winning team.
Thanks in large part to the team’s efforts, OCT has transitioned from a tool for ophthalmologists who treat glaucoma patients to a mainstream method used to study disease mechanisms underlying MS. Research from the group has shown that OCT can identify unsuspected damage in nerve fibers at the back of the eye, and that this damage echoes more global injury in the brain during the course of MS, making it an invaluable tool for measuring the success of treatments and during clinical trials of new therapies. The team has also related different types of nerve fiber damage in the eye to the loss of visual acuity and vision-related quality-of-life scores.
This trio of researchers leading the International MS Visual Consortium has established OCT as an accessible and critical tool in patient care and clinical trials, thereby developing a new assay of disease pathogenesis. Numerous trials of potential disease-modifying therapies now incorporate OCT measurement into outcomes, and ongoing and new studies of novel neuroprotection agents have highlighted the use of OCT as a robust “surrogate” or indirect measure of nerve fiber health and damage.
“We’re thrilled to present the 2015 Barancik Prize to Drs. Frohman, Balcer, and Calabresi,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Advocacy, Services, and Research Officer at the National MS Society. “This team has used innovative research on the eye to open up a window to brain health and damage, making it possible to apply widely available tools to track clinical care and clinical trial outcomes in people with MS, while offering novel insights into pathology of the disease.”
Dr. Frohman has published over 250 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and monographs, and serves as a principal investigator on a number of MS clinical trials. He also serves as a reviewer for numerous journals in the field of neurology.
Dr. Frohman’s wife, Teresa C. Frohman, is a physician assistant in Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern who has been his principal collaborator for nearly 30 years. Together, they have co-authored over 60 peer-reviewed manuscripts.
UT Southwestern recently established the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, a comprehensive initiative dedicated to better understanding the basic molecular workings of the brain and applying these discoveries to the prevention and treatment of brain diseases and injuries.