Improving the diagnosis of cognitive impairment in MS


Dr Charles Malpas

University of Melbourne, VIC

| Better treatments | Social And Applied Research | Fellowship | 2021 | Investigator Led Research |


Cognition (thinking and memory) issues can be common in people living with MS and may present in many ways, such as problems with attention, concentration and language. However, exactly how these different cognitive functions impact on or interact with each other is unknown. Presently there does not exist a universal model of potential cognitive impairment in MS to assist clinicians in the diagnosis and management of cognitive issues for affected people living with MS.

Dr Malpas aims to address this gap in knowledge by evaluating a new model to assess cognitive impairment in people living with MS and to translate this model into clinical use. This study will explore basic models of cognitive function to see how separate areas of cognition (called fundamental and instrumental) are inter-related. For example, how basic functions such as attention and processing speed (fundamental) and higher-level functions such as memory and language (instrumental) impact each other. It is anticipated that this research may develop a new model of cognitive impairment in MS for healthcare professionals to use, leading to improvements in both diagnosis and management. Ultimately this will improve cognitive rehabilitation, communication between clinicians, patient education and quality of life for people living with MS.

Progress to Date

Dr Malpas and his team have made substantial progress on this project. Ethics and governance approval was obtained in early 2021 at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and recruitment commenced in the Royal Melbourne Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology clinic.

Slight modifications were made to the project to permit assessment of participants via telehealth. Specifically, markers of fundamental cognitive function were changed to ensure they could be completed online.

To date, Dr Malpas and his team have recruited 61 people living with MS and 54 people without MS, which is 51% and 45% of the planned cohort, respectively. This is consistent with the team being approximately halfway through the data collection phase, with data collection aimed to be completed by the end of 2022.

Analysis has been begun on the data collected to date. Specifically, clinical interviews have been transcribed and thematic analysis has begun. This means that there will be limited delay between completing recruitment and analysing all data.

Dr Malpas has presented this work at several conferences and aims to publish several research articles over the next year.

Updated 31 March 2022

Updated: 19 January, 2021

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years


Grant Awarded

  • Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Total Funding

  • $165,000


  • 3 years

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Associate Professor Anthony Don

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Improving the diagnosis of cognitive impairment in MS