Nursing graduate student helps fight progression of multiple sclerosis

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Janet Morrison

UT nursing graduate student Janet Morrison has spent hundreds of hours helping multiple sclerosis patients improve their quality of life. 

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing recognized her hard work this February when she was named Emerging Scientist of the Month.

Morrison uses exercise regimens unique to each patient to help them overcome symptoms such as fatigue and mobility limitations. She chooses participants who are not physically active and meets with each patient twice a week for six months to help them exercise.

Her goal is to see if the physical activity can slow down the progression of MS and improve cognitive function over the course of the experiment.

“There are currently no therapies that are effective for either maintaining function or, even better yet, improving function,” Morrison said. “I’m one of the few, if not the only person, who is actually doing an experimental design study.”

Morrison said her idea for using physical activity to improve brain function is similar to what is already known about how exercise improves brain function in older people.

“The research that I’m basing this on is pretty robust,” Morrison said. “There’s a lot of evidence that increased physical activity in older persons supports brain function.”

Although MS is not fatal, this fatigue and depression can cause inactivity, which leads to other health problems like heart disease and obesity, according to Alexa Stuifbergen, the dean of the School of Nursing. 

“What most people do when they’re tired or have fatigue is they rest, and they will feel better,” Stuifbergen said. “If you have chronic fatigue, like people with MS do, if you rest, you’re just going to get deconditioned.”

According to Stuifbergen, Morrison’s research could lead to a bigger study of treatment of cognitive disabilities for people with MS.

“We do not have medications to treat cognitive impairment in MS,” Stuifbergen said. “I think it’ll be very exciting, and potentially opens up a whole new avenue.”

Morrison said she has enjoyed working individually with people and getting to know them over the course of the experiment.

“She clearly has a passion about helping people with chronic conditions be able to have the best quality of life that they can have,” Becker said. “I think [the award] is very well received. She’s exactly the kind of person that is deserving of that award.”