Advocate to Scientist: Briana Landis is Motivated by MS

Diagnosed at four with multiple sclerosis (MS), Discovery MS intern Briana Landis is a passionate advocate for people with MS and the research that can improve their lives. 

Neurologists told the parents of four-year-old Briana Landis that it was impossible for her to have multiple sclerosis (MS). By five, there was no doubt that her severe headaches and episodes of vision loss were caused by the autoimmune disease. Fifteen years later, empowered by her disease, Landis is interning at Discovery MS, a non-profit research initiative housed in the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) on the NC Research Campus (NCRC).

Discovery MS is dedicated to developing new prognostic and diagnostic tools for people MS. The organization was started by Simon Gregory, PhD, who Landis met at the grand opening of the NCRC in 2008. Landis grew up in Kannapolis and is an A.L. Brown High School graduate. In fact, she was the 2015 valedictorian. She starts her junior year at Meredith College in Raleigh in the fall.

At Meredith, she studies biology and is an undergraduate researcher investigating probiotics, the gastrointestinal tract, and how storage methods impact probiotic viability. “The medicine I take regularly for my MS weakens my immune system,” Landis explained. “My mom makes me take probiotics to make up for it, and I’ve always wondered if it’s truly effective.”

When she’s not in class, running or at the lab bench, Landis is a spokesperson for people with MS, making appearances and giving talks at various MS events in Raleigh. At one of these events, she reconnected with Gregory. The reunion led to a summer internship. Landis is working at Discovery MS with Senior Staff Scientist Sabrina Cote, PhD.

“It’s nice to have one extra pair of hands, an extra brain,” Cote said about her new intern. “Training the next generation of researchers is just one of the responsibilities you have as a scientist.”

Since its launch in November 2016, Gregory and Cote have been busy analyzing metabolomics and genetic data, writing scientific papers for publication and raising funds. Alongside Cote, Landis is learning about genotyping and working on an MS questionnaire. The questionnaire is designed to connect environmental factors, health history, and genetic factors in ways that inform the research of Discovery MS’s scientific collaborators.

With all she is doing in life, it is hard to imagine that Landis has MS. She knows she is lucky that her MS symptoms are relatively mild. She has a form of MS that is called Relapsing-Remitting, meaning there are only temporary periods of time where she has flare-ups of MS symptoms.

“I can’t see out of one eye when it’s the worst,” Landis explained. “Luckily, it’s been over ten years since this last happened.” Increased stress makes her MS worse, she says. She struggles with migraines and sometimes experiences the sensation of “bugs crawling up and down” her back.

Despite the challenges, she is driven by one thought. “Obviously I have a big goal in mind − a cure,” Landis said. “But it’s not just for me. It’s for all the people I’ve ever met who are living with MS.”

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