US Ballerina Gives Up Career To Research MS In Scotland

Gamma Knife surgery - Brain nerve cells

An American ballerina has given up her dance career to research multiple sclerosis (MS) in Scotland. BBC News reports that Emily Davis worked at the Philadelphia Ballet company for six years before moving to Glasgow in 2021, where she embarked on a PhD in dance health at Glasgow Caledonian University. 

Ms Davis’ research will investigate how dance classes can help people living with MS, an  autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system. It’s more common in countries that lie further north or south of the equator, and the condition is disproportionately prevalent in Scotland compared to England and Wales.

Other northern hemisphere countries such as Canada have above average rates of MS. However, it is not yet clear what the reasons for this are, although research is currently ongoing. The causes of MS are not fully understood, although scientists believe that genetics make up about 50 per cent of the risk of getting MS.

There is a theory that lack of sunshine may be another risk factor for MS, which might explain why more people in the far north of Scotland are living with MS than almost anywhere else in the world. There is also some evidence that being exposed to certain viruses, smoking, obesity, and long-term exposure to certain solvents may increase the risk. 

MS is not a terminal disease, and it can be treated but not cured. Everyone’s symptoms will vary according to the particular part of the brain or spinal cord that has been damaged. Some people only have mild symptoms and they only have a minor impact on their day to day lives, while others may live with a degree of disability. 

Some people with MS find that their symptoms get gradually worse over time, while others have flare ups followed by a period of recovery, which is known as relapsing remitting MS. There are medical treatments known as disease modifying drugs that can treat the underlying condition of MS, and they can slow down the progress of the disease.

Some people with MS have therapies such as physiotherapy, and complementary therapies that might include yoga, pilates, reflexology, or meditation, to treat their symptoms. MS can affect balance, coordination, mobility, energy levels and cognitive function, and research has shown that exercise can help to ease these symptoms. 

Ms Davis explained to the BBC that her research was inspired by the use of movement and dance to treat other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease. 

She said: “When I looked at dance for other neurological conditions, I found that there were only 13 studies on dance for MS, so there was only limited research in this area, and we are aware of really only a handful of dance programmes around the world.”

“We know that movement, especially rhythmic movement like dance, can be really beneficial for movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Scottish Ballet is at the forefront of dance for MS in the UK and globally, so it’s been the best place to start.”

Professor Lorna Paul, a rehabilitation expert in allied health science at Glasgow Caledonian University, commented on Ms Davis’ work: “Emily’s ground-breaking research has provided evidence on potential benefits of ballet for people with MS for the first time.”

She added: “People with MS can have problems with movement and balance which can be helped with exercise. Ballet is a form of physical activity which may be more expressive, fun and with a stronger social component than traditional forms of rehabilitation.”

“Emily’s PhD has been the catalyst for the successful collaboration between Glasgow Caledonian, RCS and Scottish Ballet, and this collaboration will continue to grow and strengthen thanks to Emily’s work.”

In 2019, research by the University of Edinburgh confirmed that Scotland has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, with the highest incidences in Orkney and Tayside. It also found that women were over twice as likely to develop MS than men. 

The study was carried out by researchers from The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic in Edinburgh, which was established with a donation from the Harry Potter author JK Rowling, whose mother passed away with MS aged 45. 

For more information about multiple sclerosis and nerve damage, and also to find out about Gamma Knife surgery, please contact Mr Jonathan Hyam of Amethyst Radiotherapy.