Mr. Chair, I welcome the opportunity to speak about multiple sclerosis tonight and how new research can help bring new hope to patients.
As we know, MS is a devastating diagnosis and unpredictable illness. It often strikes young people who may lose the ability to move and speak as the illness takes its course. Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world. Every day three more people in Canada are diagnosed with MS.
My riding of southern Alberta has one of highest incidence of MS in the world. In fact, in the neighbourhood where my children grew up, three young ladies, within six houses of each other, were all diagnosed with MS at about the same time in their lives.
It is the prevalence of this illness in Canada and the debilitation that it can cause which leads us all to hope for a cure. I do not stand here today speaking from merely a theoretical standpoint. I am personally determined to see us find a treatment for MS. A few years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with MS.
Since that time, my wife has been a member of the local MS Society board. I have been involved in red carnation day on Parliament Hill. Over the last five years “Team Casson”, supported by numerous unselfish people, has raised $92,000 through the MS Society Enerflex MS Walk.
I do not say this to brag. I say it because it leads into the fact that individual Canadians on the ground are doing what they can to find a cure for MS, just as the Government of Canada is. We have invested through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research over $45 million to date on MS research. It is through investments in research and innovation that our best hopes lie in improving treatments and some day finding a cure.
In part, due to these investments, the last few years have seen great advancements in MS research. Our knowledge of what causes MS, how it develops and how it progresses is growing, but many questions remain unanswered. The Canadian research community is working tirelessly to answer many of these questions.
For example, researchers are working to solve what is considered one of the great medical mysteries of neurological diseases: how does myelin, which is responsible for protecting and insulating nerves, become damaged and lose its protective effect?
CIHR-funded researcher Peter Stys from the University of Calgary has been working on this question and has discovered that myelin can chemically communicate with the surrounding nerve fibres. Dr. Stys and his research team reported that damage from a stroke could be avoided by blocking the myelin receptors. Many researchers are looking at these receptors as potential targets for MS therapies. This is very promising work, indeed.
Another example is the work of another CIHR-funded researcher, Dr. Sam Weiss, again from the University of Calgary, whose discovery of neural stem cells and their ability to stimulate neural development through our lifetime is the foundation upon which much research on neurological diseases, including MS, is taking place. The implication of Dr. Weiss' research is that recovery of motor, visual and cognitive functions is possible.
Yet another promising example is the work of Canadian MS researchers who networked right across the country, spanning from the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto to the University of British Columbia. These CIHR-funded researchers are trying to harness the growing power of skin cells to repair cells in the nervous system.
The first thing I was told when my daughter was diagnosed was that MS was a lesion on the brain that caused an interruption in the signals from the brain. These researchers are looking at an ability to repair the cells in the nervous system. The goal of this research is to some day make brain and nerve damage reversible. Imagine if that happened. It is something MS patients desperately need.
I also want to mention the good work being done in my home town at the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge. Researchers there are striving to understand the basic structure and function of brain circuitry.
This is providing insights into the most fundamental properties of brain function, which may help decipher the causes of many disorders, including stroke, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. Scientists such as Dr. Bryan Kolb, Dr. Ian Whishaw and Dr. Gerlinde Metz are conducting research that looks at how the brain regenerates function and circuitry using stem cells, psychoactive drugs and other therapeutic interventions. Dr. Bryan Kolb, a long-time friend, was the first person I called.
The importance of establishing a robust health research community, ready to respond to a myriad of questions across disciplines, cannot be overstated. This is because often researchers are looking for answers on one disease and end up advancing our knowledge on another.
For example, Dr. Bruce Pike and Dr. Douglas Arnold of McGill University are studying Alzheimer's disease, and receive CIHR funding to advance functional magnetic resonance imaging research. This work will help to comprehensively and quantitatively assess tissue damage in MS patients, thereby improving our understanding of the disease and the evaluation of the new therapies.
The above are only a few examples of the ways in which research funding through CIHR is leading to discoveries that will help us help people living with MS. Indeed the research funded by the Government of Canada is changing people's lives. Investments in a wide range of research, including over $120 million in the larger area of neurosciences research in 2008-09 alone, are having an impact. A further $38 million in stem cell research has been invested for researchers to pursue potentially useful therapies for the treatment of disease, such as multiple sclerosis.
Further, it is worth noting that the CIHR has made chronic diseases, of which MS is one of the top research priorities in its new 2009 strategic plan. All of these investments are building on our overall understanding of MS. I am hopeful that these investments and the discoveries that they lead to will advance our understanding of MS and allow for the development of safe and effective treatments.
As for the new vascular treatment making headlines worldwide, I join all Canadians on all sides of the House in the hope that this new approach proves to be safe and effective, but I need to see some sound evidence before adding it to the body of knowledge on MS.
I want to mention my daughter's doctor in Edmonton, Dr. Mary Lou Myles. She takes all of this information that comes forward, takes all the spin and all the misinformation out of it, and sends out information updates to her patients. I read these on occasion. I appreciate the fact that she approaches this in that way. She understands the potential is there, but she is very cautious about how to proceed.
To this end, the Minister of Health has asked Dr. Alain Beaudet, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to provide her with advice on how to further advance research in this important area. The CIHR has been consulting with the research community and is collaborating with the MS Society of Canada to identify priorities for MS research.
In keeping with this great tradition of guiding Canada's research agenda, the CIHR is helping to steer a course that will answer the pressing questions still left unanswered regarding MS. In keeping with this tradition, it is doing so in a manner that foster excellence in the Canadian research community.
I am confident the CIHR will use its expertise and vast networks to support the great scientific minds in improving our understanding of MS and reducing the suffering of MS patients.
My family and I, along with many Canadians, are excited about the possibilities of this new treatment. We sincerely hope we find an effective cure for this debilitating disease. I encourage the pertinent researchers in Canada to work with the CIHR, to work with the MS Society and with our Minister of Health, and apply for the funding that has been made available to do the good work that is needed in the research so we can end MS.