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Clinical Associate Professor, University of Calgary

By: Kate Robertson

The estimated 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians with multiple sclerosis (MS) and their friends and families continue to seek answers about the unpredictable disease. The causes not certain, and while treatment has vastly improved over recent years, there still is no cure for the often-debilitating illness.

But because of the diligent work of individuals like the University of Calgary’s Dr. Fiona Costello, scientific researchers are inching closer to answers. Dr. Costello is a clinical associate professor and co-director of the NeuroProtection and Repair Evaluation Unit (NPREU) of the Multiple Sclerosis Program at the University of Calgary. She manages over 51 direct reports and has led or closed six deals in the last year.

Her research focuses on the anterior visual pathway and MS, and is working to trace the mechanical neurological dysfunctions that MS patients suffer. In doing so, she hopes to develop new types of therapy for those that live with the disease.

Many have read about the potential link between multiple sclerosis and Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI), a term created in 2008 by Italian scientist Dr. Paolo Zamboni. Dr. Costello and her team at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute are one of seven North American research teams funded by the MS Society of Canada and the National MS Society (USA) to put Dr. Zamboni’s findings to the test. In addition to receiving funding from the MS Society of Canada, Dr. Costello and her team have also been funded by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Neuroscience Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence, and the Stem Cell Network. They have secured approximately $6 million toward their work.

Dr. Costello has been widely published in scholarly journals and has authored numerous chapters of books as well. She speaks all over the country and internationally on the topics of her field, and recently, she was honoured as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 for her accomplishments.

She has earned 10 prestigious awards, such as the P.J. Leinfelder Award for Research at the University of Iowa (2002), the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society Young Investigator Award (2007), and the Surgery Innovation Award at the University of Calgary in 2011. She has sat on numerous boards throughout her career.

A native of Stephenville, Newfoundland, Dr. Fiona Costello studied Biochemistry at Memorial University before graduating from the institution’s medical school in 1995. From there, she entered the neurology residency program, again at Memorial, but went on to complete a Neuro-Ophthalmology clinical research fellowship at the University of Iowa. After a five-year stint at the University of Ottawa, in 2007 Dr. Costello moved on to Calgary because of the reputation of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the city’s university and the extensive work researchers were conducting in the area of multiple sclerosis.