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#066: Pioneering Paths. Empowering Young Minds in MS & NMO Research with Dr. Sara Samadzadeh

Multiple sclerosis and NMOSD have made tremendous advances in treatment due to research conducted over the past decades. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done. It is therefore all the more important that this area of neurology continues to attract young, committed and motivated scientists who contribute their own ideas and network with each other. Dr. Sara Samadzadeh is one of these young scientists. As President of the European Charcot Foundation Young Investigators, she promotes initiatives such as women in research and faster diagnosis in Iran, her home country. She is also an ambassador for the Sumaira Foundation, which campaigns for NMO and MOGAD patients. Find out more in the interview.

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Table of Contents

Introduction – Who is Dr. Sara Samadzadeh?

Hi, thank you so much for having me today, and congratulations on your wonderfully friendly, informative, and unique podcast. My name is Sara, and I am a medical doctor and I have clinical neurology training in my background. I have started on a PhD/Postdoc pathway in neuroimmunology and neuro-ophthalmology at Southern Denmark University, in collaboration with Charité University Hospital and Research Center. I am originally from Tehran, the capital city of Iran, I am currently residing in the beautiful city of Berlin. I moved to Germany about 6-7 years ago, initially settling in Southern Germany. I had the privilege of working at Düsseldorf University Hospital under the guidance of Prof. Peter Hartung and Prof. Meuth in the MS field, and then with Prof. Friedemann Paul.

I have a passion for learning languages and enjoy networking with different cultures. My travels and life experiences span over 40 countries, including living in several of them for extended periods. Aside from my professional pursuits, I love engaging in sports, particularly jogging and running in nature. My favorite spot at the moment is the Tiergarten in Berlin.

Personal motivation for your career choice?

My journey into neurology began with my mother, who has been a great influence in my life. She is a well-known neurologist and MS specialist in Iran, and my fascination with the mysterious world of neurons and the brain started in early childhood. For my elementary school project, I dissected a sheep’s brain, and from then on, our conversations often revolved around diseases and treatments. I have witnessed the evolving field of MS-related disorders for the past 10-15 years, observing my mother as she traveled the world for conferences and collaborations.

 

During my medical school years, I encountered my first cases of MS and Devic’s disease. It was a privilege to witness all these developments and to understand the changes in treatment firsthand. Inspired by my mother and supported by my father, I chose the challenging path of immigration to broaden my knowledge and training at other institutions.

European Charcot Foundation Young Investigators

Who qualifies as a Young Investigator under the European Charcot Foundation's Initiative and beyond age, what other criteria must applicants fulfill?

A Young Investigator under the European Charcot Foundation’s Initiative is typically defined as a researcher who is within 5-10 years of receiving their last academic degree. Beyond this timeframe, applicants are required to demonstrate a strong commitment to neurology, with a specific focus on research in MS and NMOSD.

Additional qualifications often include:

  • Previous recipients of the Young Investigator Awards.
  • Participants of the ECF Fellowship programs.
  • Winners of the Best Poster at CTRIMS conferences.

 

These criteria help ensure that candidates are not only promising in their respective fields but also actively contributing to the advancement of research in MS field.

What type of support can Young Investigators expect from the European Charcot Foundation?

Young Investigators can anticipate a comprehensive range of support designed to foster their development and exposure in the research related to MS related disorders

This support includes:

Mentorship Opportunities: Guidance from experienced researchers in the field, providing professional growth and learning opportunities.

Travel Grants: Assistance for travel expenses related to research activities / ECF conference participation, enabling broader exposure and learning opportunities.

Training Opportunities/ Fellowship Programs

ECF Small Grant

Fellowship Community:

  • Regular meetings, including two digital and one live gathering, fostering a sense of community and continuous engagement.
  • Access to tools and platforms designed to amplify their voice (younger generation) within the community, enhancing their impact and visibility.
  • Opportunities for co-creation, allowing Young Investigators to actively participate in MS projects and initiatives that enhance engagement and dissemination of knowledge.

What is the core purpose of the fellowship offered by the Young Investigators Initiative, and how does it support research into MS and NMO?

Training Opportunities/ Fellowship Programs: The ECF facilitates training periods for young healthcare professionals at affiliated Multiple Sclerosis Centers, enhancing their practical skills and knowledge.

ECF Small Grant: Provision of small grants to support specific short-term research projects or preliminary research phases for early career researchers.

https://www.charcot-ms.org/career-advancement

What is your role as president of the Young Investigators initiative and how long will you hold this role?

I was elected president of the Young Investigators initiative during the ECF 2023 for an initial term of two years, with the possibility of re-election for an additional two years before new elections are held. My primary responsibilities include maintaining close contact with all members and overseeing the implementation of various activities.

 

A key aspect of my role involves the establishment of subgroups tailored to the members‘ interests and potential directions. Notably, we have initiated several special interest groups, including LATAM and FAIR (Females in MS), as well as groups focused on MS healthcare. These subgroups facilitate targeted research and discussions within specific areas of MS research.

 

Moreover, I am actively involved in initiating numerous literature review and epidemiological projects. These projects capitalize on the diverse and global membership of our community, offering unique opportunities for cross-country collaborations and insights. This makes our group exceptionally vibrant and well-positioned to leverage a wide range of perspectives and expertise in MS research.

How does the initiative handle situations where applicants or current fellows are approaching or have surpassed the age limit?

The initiative accommodates members who are approaching or have surpassed the typical age limit by offering lifelong membership. This allows them to continue participating in the initiative as senior members. Regarding the general age limit for new applicants or current fellows, we consider those who are within 5-10 years of completing their final educational program (such as residency or PhD). We believe this approach is fairer, particularly for women, ensuring that all members have ample opportunity to contribute and benefit from the initiative throughout their careers.

Sumaira Foundation Ambassador

What is the Sumaira Foundation and how did you become an ambassador for Iran?

The Sumaira Foundation is a patient-established organization founded in the summer of 2014. Sumaira, diagnosed with seronegative neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder after experiencing sudden and severe vision loss and weakness/numbness, launched the foundation less than two months after her diagnosis. The Sumaira Foundation (TSF) is dedicated to generating global awareness of NMOSD, MOGAD, and other rare neuroimmune conditions. It also aims to build supportive communities for patients and their loved ones, support research, and advocate on behalf of patients. Sumaira currently serves as the Executive Director of The Sumaira Foundation.

I first met the remarkable Sumaira at MEDEN in Oxford through the esteemed neuroimmunologist Patrick Watters. During our conversations, we discussed how we could introduce cell-based assay technology in Iran. Subsequently, we received a grant from The Sumaira Foundation, and we are now close to finalizing the Cell Based Assay at a university-affiliated center in Iran to aid diagnosis.

What strategies can ambassadors employ to enhance awareness of NMOSD and MOGAD among the general public and healthcare professionals?

I am honored to talk about my experiences as an ambassador in both Iran and Germany. Aside from facilitating diagnostic assays for patients in Iran, we have launched a series of educational seminars and webinars titled „Iranian Insight.“ This initiative features case discussions and lectures aimed at young neurologists. We have also translated most of the material into Farsi/Persian and have been actively introducing the foundation at various Iranian MS congresses.

In addition to these educational efforts, with the support of other ambassadors, I initiated the „NMOG Movement.“ This movement encourages individuals to engage in one healthy activity each day for themselves and share it on social media. We have conducted several interviews with ambassadors to provide diverse perspectives on the benefits of exercise and various other activities.

https://www.sumairafoundation.org/community/tsf-everyday-wellness/

Why is it crucial for NMOSD and MOGAD patients to be treated by competent specialists, and how can ambassadors advocate for this?

It is crucial for patients with NMOSD and MOGAD to be treated by specialists to ensure accurate diagnosis, effective treatment planning, and management of these complex diseases. As a doctor and subspecialist in the field, I can advocate for this by promoting education and training opportunities for healthcare providers in my country. Additionally, as an ambassador, I serve as a bridge to well-known healthcare centers internationally, enhancing the exchange of knowledge and resources.

What are the most significant barriers to care for NMOSD and MOGAD patients globally, and how do these issues manifest in countries like Iran?

Significant barriers include lack of awareness, limited access to specialists, and the high cost of treatments. In Iran, these issues may be compounded by economic sanctions affecting healthcare funding and availability of medications. Ambassadors can work to identify these barriers and collaborate with international organizations to find solutions.

In the fight against NMOSD and MOGAD, what resources or support systems are currently most lacking, and how can ambassadors help bridge these gaps?

In the battle against NMOSD and MOGAD, significant gaps exist in resources such as funding for research, access to quality healthcare—including updated treatment options—and global patient support networks. Ambassadors can play a crucial role in bridging these gaps by engaging in fundraising, fostering partnerships with healthcare providers, and establishing robust support networks for patients and their families.

Quickfire Q&A Session

Complete the sentence: "For me, multiple sclerosis and NMO spectrum diseases are..."

For me, multiple sclerosis and NMO spectrum diseases are challenges that motivate my deepest commitments to medical research and patient advocacy.

What development would you like to see in the field of multiple sclerosis and NMO spectrum diseases in the next 5 years?

In the next five years, I envision significant advancements in the realm of personalized medicine for treating MS and NMO. This would involve tailoring treatments based on individual genetic profiles, environmental factors, and disease phenotypes to enhance efficacy and minimize side effects. The goal is to move beyond one-size-fits-all therapies to more targeted approaches that consider the unique aspects of each patient’s condition.

 

Additionally, I hope to see a substantial increase in the global availability of treatments. This means improving access not just in high-income countries but also extending these advancements to lower-income regions where patients often face significant barriers to obtaining the latest therapies. Efforts should include negotiating lower prices with pharmaceutical companies, encouraging governments to prioritize healthcare funding, and implementing international health initiatives aimed at equitable treatment distribution.

 

Moreover, greater integration of patient feedback into the clinical trial process is crucial. Patients‘ insights and experiences should be valued as essential data points that can inform both the design and evaluation of clinical trials. By doing so, we can ensure that research is not only about clinical outcomes but also about enhancing the quality of life for those affected by these conditions.

What website can you recommend for people living with NMO spectrum diseases?

Farewell

Finally, what message of hope or encouragement would you like to share with the listeners?

To everyone living with MS and NMO spectrum diseases, please hold onto hope. Every day, we are witnessing and contributing to new breakthroughs in the scientific understanding and treatment of these complex conditions. Through dedicated research, we are constantly uncovering more about the underlying mechanisms of these diseases and developing innovative treatments that promise better outcomes.

 

Remember, you are not alone in this journey. There is a vibrant global community of researchers, clinicians, healthcare providers, and fellow patients all united in their commitment to fight these diseases. Together, we are working tirelessly to push the boundaries of what’s possible in medical science and patient care.

 

As we look to the future, let us remain optimistic and proactive. Continued advancements are on the horizon, driven by our collective efforts and the shared goal of significantly improving the lives of all of you. Your strength, courage, and stories inspire us every day, and they reinforce the importance of our work.

Together, we will continue to make strides toward more effective treatments and, ultimately, cures for these conditions.

 

Empower, Engage, Overcome: Together for a Stronger MS Community

How and where can interested people follow your research activities?

Interested individuals can follow my research activities and updates through my publications on academic platforms, presentations at conferences, or on professional social media profiles such as LinkedIn and ResearchGate. (Instagram social activities and professional activities)

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sara-Samadzadeh

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sara-samadzadeh-21895965/?originalSubdomain=de

https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=FeK7rcsAAAAJ&hl=en

X (Twitter): Sara Samadzadeh (@SaraSamsS20Ss)

Instagram: Sara.leia.sam 

A big thank you to Sara for her dedication and efforts that ultimately benefit patients through better care, patient-centered work and motivated scientists in the field of MS and NMOSD.

See you soon and try to make the best out of your life,
Nele

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I show you how to make the best of your life with MS from family to career to hobbies. Thanks to science and research, a lot is possible nowadays.

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