Providence MS Center celebrates 20 years – and many new advances

Author: Stanley Cohan, M.D., Ph.D., medical director, Providence Multiple Sclerosis Center

With vision and support from Providence Oregon’s leadership team, Providence Multiple Sclerosis Center – a part of Providence Brain and Spine Institute – was launched 20 years ago to support a growing need in our community. Today we are the largest MS center in the Pacific Northwest, caring for more than 4,000 patients and about 50% of the people with MS in Oregon and southwest Washington.

We have a specialized team of MS experts, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, researchers, MS registry experts and a basic science laboratory working to develop new medications.

Since we opened, our center has been involved in nearly 40 funded clinical research trials, written more than 90 peer-reviewed articles and made more than 200 presentations at scientific meetings. We also believe that MS registries are key to helping our patients access the best care while helping our scientists learn more about this disease.

Research overview

We know that finding new and better treatments for our patients depends on a strong commitment to understanding the science behind this disease. The Providence MS Center focuses on three key areas of research: (1) clinical diagnostic and therapeutic measures, (2) registry research and (3) preclinical translational studies.

At present, our research team is working on more than 20 clinical trials. It’s important to note that much of our research is funded entirely by Providence Foundations of Oregon donors and the MS community. We are very grateful for their support. Our current clinical trials include the following:

  • We’re examining the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines for people with MS who are taking medications that suppress or modulate the immune system.
  • A special MRI technology, called Icometrix, uses the power of artificial intelligence to measure subtle changes in disease progression that is undetectable with previous technology. We are using this technology to monitor the effectiveness of patient responses to different medications, allowing detection of subtle changes in the brain that previously were not detectable.
  • A very exciting study called Geno4ME is designed to provide genomic sequencing of each of our patients with MS. From this research, we hope to learn how to predict which medications work best for each patient along with many other applications, such as whether a patient’s risk and/or severity of disease can be determined based upon their genome, and to what other illnesses MS patients may be vulnerable.

In the Geno4ME study, we collaborate with Ora Gordan, M.D., MS, regional medical director, Center for Clinical Genetics and Genomics, Providence Southern California Region, and her colleagues to use patients’ saliva to detect genes that predict greater risk of certain diseases, and to determine if certain medications are safe and effective. At present we have enrolled 251 MS patients in this study. So far, we have results for 102 of them, 26% of whom required potential changes in their medications or provided a warning about which future medications to avoid. We currently are raising additional funds to complete the analyses of the remaining 149 patients and to expand the analyses for our entire MS patient population.

For many of our research projects, the Providence MS Center has been fortunate to collaborate with outstanding, very dedicated partners, including Providence Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Florida International University, Penn State University and the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle.

The Providence MS Center registries

We operate four multiple sclerosis registries:

  1. Pacific Northwest MS Registry: (Use Google Chrome at
    Providence Multiple Sclerosis Center, in partnership with the Oregon Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, is trying to identify every person with MS in the Pacific Northwest, to obtain detailed information about their disease and treatments and to follow them over time.
  2. National African Americans with MS Registry: (Use Google Chrome at In 2020, Providence Multiple Sclerosis Center, in partnership with leading African American neurologists across the U.S., launched a first-of-its-kind effort to identify Black people with MS. Information gathered from the registry will help identify the barriers Black patients with MS face and will help eliminate inequities in their access to care.
  3. Anti-B Cell Registry: Overseen by Providence MS Center neurologist Kyle Smoot, M.D., this registry collects ongoing clinical information, including medication use, benefits and safety data in more than 500 patients using these medications.
  4. S1PR Modulator Therapy Registry: This registry also is under Dr. Smoot’s leadership and actively collects benefit and safety data from this important class of immune-modulating medications used to treat MS.

If any of your patients are interested in enrolling in one of these registries, they can click on the links above or contact our center at 503-216-1150, and we will help them enroll.

Providence MS Center: the next 20 to 30 years

Our scientists and MS investigator colleagues around the world will achieve major, actionable insights that are based on discoveries in molecular biology, genomics, immune mechanisms and virology research. The global MS-treating community is working to reliably predict who will get MS and to gain the ability to ethically edit genes that may contribute to its risk, and is also working to develop new antiviral agents to shut down and even prevent the disease from occurring.

It is not unrealistic to predict that in the next several decades, we will learn what causes MS – likely a combination of genetic, infectious and environmental factors, and possibly exposure to certain toxins.

How you and your patients can help

To the physicians and nurses in the community who have entrusted Providence MS Center to help care for your patients, we are deeply grateful. Here are a few ways you, your colleagues and your patients can continue to help us make new discoveries and create new treatments for MS:

  1. Participate in clinical trials as appropriate.
  2. Participate in registries, including the Pacific Northwest MS registry and the National African Americans with MS registry.
  3. Participate in philanthropy.

For more information

2021 Providence Multiple Sclerosis Research Update (video with Dr. Cohan):


Providence Multiple Sclerosis Center website


About the Author

The inScope content team focuses on bringing you the latest in clinical news from our team of world-class medical providers and physician leaders.

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