MS Research at Shepherd Center

MS Clinical, Rehabilitation and Wellness Intervention Trials

MS research at Shepherd Center includes both clinical trials and rehabilitation and wellness intervention trials. We support basic and applied MS research efforts. Our researchers use scientifically sound methods, safeguard the welfare of research participants and aim to advance the field of rehabilitation medicine.

About the Multiple Sclerosis Research Program at Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center engages in research to improve clinical outcomes and the quality of life for people with multiple sclerosis.

In 2012, the MS Rehabilitation and Wellness Research Program began as part of the Eula C. and Andrew C. Carlos MS Rehabilitation and Wellness Program at Shepherd Center. Our research mission supports the MS clinical program and aims to improve the function, health, wellness and quality of life for all people with MS.

To that end, our researchers conduct multiple sclerosis clinical studies to better understand the effects of rehabilitation (both physical and cognitive) and exercise interventions for individuals with MS, with a specific focus on those with mobility challenges or barriers to access to rehabilitation interventions.

Our research also addresses how interventions affect vocation and quality of life for these individuals. We disseminate research findings (knowledge translation) to people with MS, as well as MS healthcare providers, caregivers and payers.

By sharing our research and findings, we help to optimize function and quality of life for all people living with MS.

Flow chart showing health and wellness in people with multiple sclerosis

MS Clinical Trials Advancing the Field of Rehabilitative Medicine

Our research activities also include MS clinical trials related to cutting-edge therapies such as investigational medications, new cell therapies and new devices to patients in the MS Institute at Shepherd Center in Atlanta. We support basic and applied MS clinical trials and research efforts that are scientifically sound, safeguard the welfare of research participants and have the potential to advance the field of rehabilitation medicine.

Ismari Clesson, RN, MSCN, CCRP, director of clinical research, and her team of clinical trial nurses and coordinators oversee 12 clinical trials related to MS.

Learn more about MS-related research trials at Shepherd Center.

PCORI Research Study: Exercise Programs for People with Multiple Sclerosis

Shepherd Center is the lead site for a study exploring methods of exercise delivery and their effects on multiple sclerosis. This new multiple sclerosis research study is made possible by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), who awarded $5.7 million in research funding to the project.

The study, “Comparative Effectiveness of an Exercise Intervention Delivered via Telerehabilitation and Conventional Mode of Delivery,” evaluates the effectiveness of different types of exercise programs for people with multiple sclerosis. The project compares exercise programs provided at gyms or rehabilitation facilities with a telerehabilitation program available to patients at home. The goal is to increase the accessibility and sustainability of exercise options for people with MS, which can in turn lead to increased opportunities for MS treatment at Shepherd Center.

Co-principal investigators, Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., vice president of research and innovation and director of multiple sclerosis (MS) research at Shepherd Center, and Robert Motl, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and associate director of research for the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative, lead a team of investigators across the country.

Learn more about this multiple sclerosis research study here.

If you are interested in participating in MS research, fill out our Research Intake Form.

Our MS Research Team

Shepherd Center’s unique multiple sclerosis research program integrates clinical and research endeavors. This team, led by Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM, consists of physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, exercise specialists, physicians and collaborators from a variety of fields and institutions. This integrated team endeavors to answer meaningful questions and translate findings into clinical practice.

Deborah Backus, PT, PhD, FACRM - Vice President, Research and Innovation; Director, Crawford Research Institute; Director, Multiple Sclerosis Research
Phone: 404-350-7599

  • Louise Palmer, MA - Research Scientist and Project Manager
  • Brad Willingham, Ph.D. - Research Scientist
  • Erica Sutton - Research Coordinator
  • Julie Stowell, PT, DPT -  MS Research Fellow

MS Clinical Program Team

MS Research Team of Collaborators, Past and Present

  • STEP for MS trial investigators
  • Kevin McCully, Ph.D., University of Georgia, Augusta, Georgia, USA
  • Laura Rice, Ph.D., MPT, ATP, University of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA
  • Jacob Sosnoff, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Research, School of Health Professions, Kansas University Medical Center
  • Can Do MS
  • iConquerMS
  • Abiodun Akinwuntan, Ph.D., MPH, and Hannes Devos, Ph.D., Georgia Regents University, Georgia, USA
  • Ilse Baert, Ph.D., and Peter Feys, Ph.D., Universiteit Hasselt, Biomedical Research Institute, Belgium
  • James Krause, Ph.D., Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina, USA