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Research (DREAMS)

The Duke Center for Research in Autoimmunity and Multiple Sclerosis (DREAMS) is a multidisciplinary group of basic and clinical researchers dedicated to improving our understanding of, and patient care for, MS and autoimmune disease (AI).

About DREAMS

DREAMS allows researchers throughout Duke to collaborate, facilitate novel research by the provision of seed funding, and improve education awareness and outreach of MS and auto-immune (AI) diseases. Established in 2015, the nascent DREAMS center includes 31 faculty members from 10 departments within the Duke School of Medicine.

Investigators from the basic sciences are studying AI- and MS-related topics including model systems of disease pathology, immune cell regulation, and function, re-myelination, and the role of environmental factors such as diet on MS and AI diseases. Our clinical research includes the neuroimmunological mechanisms associated with diseases including paraneoplastic syndrome, myasthenia graves, and pediatric infectious disease, while further characterizing the pathoetiology of MS and its subtypes. An additional underpinning of DREAMS is its investment in clinical and patient education, as well as the initiation of a dedicated LP clinic that will collect cerebrospinal fluid for future MS and AI research.

Leadership

Dr. Gregory

Simon Gregory, PhD, Director of Research
Simon Gregory and his collaborators were the first to identify genetic association of a MS gene outside of the MHC. Gregory is also Principal Investigator of the MURDOCK-MS study, a 1,000 patient MS collection that aims of understanding the mechanisms associated with MS development and progression, and the generation of multi-omic biomarkers to facilitate reclassification of the disease.
 

Dr. Eckstein

Christopher Eckstein, MD, Co-Director of Research
Christopher Eckstein, MD joined the clinical staff at the Duke Neurology Department in 2015 and co-developed the DREAMS concept with Simon Gregory, PhD, and Department of Neurology chair, Richard O’Brien, MD, PhD later that year. Dr. Eckstein’s clinical research interest is associated with Autoimmune Encephalopathies specifically their diverse clinical manifestations and therapeutic response. Eckstein has recently developed a lumbar puncture clinic at Duke who goal, in addition to providing material for diagnosis, is to bank CSF for future research by DREAMS faculty.

Skeen

Mark Skeen, MD Director of Clinical Research and Education
Mark Skeen, MD ,collaborates with researchers within DREAMS, the Duke Clinical Research Institute, and other organizations to establish new directions for research, and act as an ambassador for DREAMS and to identify and recruit study participants to clinical trials and basic research within Duke.

Hartsell

F. Lee Hartsell, MD, MPH, Director of Connected Health 
F. Lee Hartsell’s clinical interests include CNS inflammatory demyelinating diseases including MS, neuromyelitis optica and transverse myelitis. In addition to research interests of emerging MS therapies and understanding the role of Vitamin D in MS, Dr. Hartsell has been collaborating with Katherine Heller to develop an MS iPhone app that uses machine learning and mobile technology to classify of daily MS patient symptoms, engage and educate users, and aggregates symptom patterns for patients and their providers.

Heller

Katherine Heller, PhD, Director of Statistical Research
Katherine Heller's research interests lie in the fields of machine learning and Bayesian statistics. She applies these methods to problems in the brain and cognitive sciences, where she strives to model human behavior, including human categorization and human social interactions. Together with F. Lee Hartsell,  Heller is developing an iPhone-based mS App that will generate detailed epidemiological data that will require complex statistical approaches for data analysis and integration with molecular data.

Clinical Research

As directors of clinical research, Mark Skeen, MD, and Chris Eckstein, MD collaborate with researchers within DREAMS, the Duke Clinical Research Institute, and other organizations.  They help to identify and recruit study participants, establish new directions for research, and act as an ambassador for DREAMS by convincing researchers within Duke to join the project.

Mark Skeen, MD – Director of Clinical Research
Chris Eckstein, MD - Associate Director of Research

Neuroimmunology

Traumatic Brain Injury and Neurorehabilitation

Opthalmology

Neuro-Radiology

Pediatrics

Basic Research

DREAMS' basic research seeks to improve our understanding of the origins and progression of multiple sclerosis, as well as the body's response to the condition and treatment, examining new imaging techniques, specific elements of the body's immune response, the condition of neuronal myelin over time, and how nutrition affects disease progression.

Imaging:

Immunology:

De/remyelination:

Nutrition and Immunity:

Statistical Science

Katherine Heller, PhD (Statistical Science) – Director

Developing a smartphone app that records and and analyzes the wealth of data relevant to MS presents a huge logistical and statistical challenge. As director of statistical research, Katherine Heller works to overcome this challenge. Her research interests lie in the fields of machine learning and Bayesian statistics. Specifically, she develops new methods and models to discover latent structure in data, including cluster structure, using Bayesian nonparametrics, hierarchical Bayes, techniques for Bayesian model comparison, and other Bayesian statistical methods.

She applies these methods to problems in the brain and cognitive sciences, where she strives to model human behavior, including human categorization and human social interactions.

Funding

To facilitate research and patient education, DREAMS provides funding for monthly journal clubs and quarterly dinners, bursaries for trainee education, and seed funding for novel high-risk, high-reward research ($100,000 annually) that will transform our understanding of MS and AI, and which will be translated into larger government and foundation-sponsored research.