UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Lifetime achievement award for Professor Thompson’s MS work

18 October 2012


Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences, has been awarded a lifetime Honorary Membership from the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) at its 28th Congress on 13 October 2012 in Lyon, France. This is the first time this award has been given in the 28 year history of the largest international multiple sclerosis (MS) organisation and reflects Professor Thompson’s outstanding international reputation within the field of MS research and his extraordinary contributions to ECTRIMS, an organization which brings together European researchers in MS and connects MS researchers worldwide.

Professor Thompson has been crucial to the creation of ECTRIMS as a legal entity, and has established fruitful collaborations between ECTRIMS, ACTRIMS (American Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis) and LACTRIMS (Latin-American Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis), and between ECTRIMS and the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, of which he is editor-in-chief.

Professor Thompson’s interest in MS began in the 1980s when, as a young doctor, he was struck by how little therapeutic intervention was available to confront the devastating effects of MS. In a 2009 Lancet article, Thompson was quoted as saying: “MS was regarded as a hopeless, depressing condition, and of relatively low interest in neurological research. Neurologists thought that they could do nothing for patients with MS and generally just wanted them to go away. But I was intrigued, because there seemed to be so many questions remaining to be answered.”

In his search for answers, Thompson focussed on using structural and functional imaging techniques (MRI) to diagnose, predict disability, and evaluate patterns of recovery in demyelinating diseases such as MS. He used these MRI findings to characterize MS sub-types, particularly primary progressive MS, which affects 10-15% of people diagnosed with MS. This research helped Thompson, working together with an international group of researchers, to establish new diagnostic criteria which are now used throughout the world.

Although Thompson’s innovative research has broken new ground, his clinical practice has consistently informed a career that remains centered on patient experience. Together with his team at UCL’s Institute of Neurology, he developed the MS Impact Scale and the MS Walking Scale, outcome measures that include the patient’s feedback on an intervention’s effectiveness. He also led the first studies into the effect of beta-interferon in primary and secondary MS as well as clinical trials in neurological rehabilitation, community-based treatment of relapses in MS, and developed standards of care for MS which were incorporated into the NICE guidance for MS and the National Service Framework for Long-Term Neurological Conditions. Thompson now combines his commitment to patients in his regular clinic with the administrative responsibilities of dean of one of UCL’s largest faculties.

Thompson admits that many unanswered questions remain: “There are still major challenges for the future in both understanding the cause and underlying pathophysiology of MS, in addition to improving treatment and care. Perhaps most importantly, given the major therapeutic advances in relapsing/remitting MS, is a focus on the poorly understood progressive forms of the condition for which there are currently no treatments.” But he remains optimistic that progress can be made: “There is a real potential for the MS research groups based at Queen Square and at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, who have joined together under the umbrella of UCL Partners to make a major contribution in this area. And I’m hopeful that the new International Collaborative on Progressive MS, which I’m leading through my role in the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation, will progress our knowledge substantially.”


Professor Thompson's webpage

Faculty of Brain Sciences

European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS)

Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) 

Related articles:

Alan Thompson: opening doors for patients with MS (from The Lancet) (May require subscription) 

Setting a research agenda for progressive multiple sclerosis: The International Collaborative on Progressive MS (fromMultiple Sclerosis Journal(May require subscription)