Educating Legislators about RLS Leads to Increased Funding

July 30, 2020 Why Your Voice Matters By Kris Schanilec Your advocacy efforts have been paying off! In October 2017, the RLS Foundati...

July 30, 2020

Why Your Voice Matters
By Kris Schanilec

Your advocacy efforts have been paying off! In October 2017, the RLS Foundation launched an advocacy initiative to inform federal policy makers about restless legs syndrome (RLS) with three main goals in mind: increasing funding for research, protecting appropriate access to opioid therapy, and expanding physician education and public awareness.

Many members of the RLS community have done their part in pursuing these goals by reaching out to their federal and local representatives via email, letter or phone – as well as joining the Foundation in Washington, DC, last May for RLS Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. As a result, Congress continues to highlight RLS medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through report language in annual appropriations bills; and the Department of Defense continues to pursue important research on sleep disorders.

You may be wondering, “How does this affect me?” Educating legislators about the concerns of RLS patients puts necessary pressure on Congress to continue funding major research institutions, which in turn allocate resources to further research on RLS and sleep disorders in general – bringing scientists closer to finding better treatments and ultimately, a cure.

The proof is in the grant allocations that have been awarded to key researchers in the field, including members of the Foundation’s very own Scientific and Medical Advisory Board. Brian B. Koo, MD, who is the director of the Yale Center for Restless Legs Syndrome (an RLS Quality Care Center), recently received a grant from the Department of Defense for his work on RLS and hormones. Dr. Koo and his team at Yale University are investigating whether the levels of melanocortin hormones are increased in the blood and cerebral spinal fluid of people with RLS. If you are interested in participating, see details on

Likewise, RLS Foundation advisory board member James Connor, PhD, at Penn State University received a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to investigate iron deficiency and the RLS brain, in collaboration with David Rye, MD, PhD, and Lynn Marie Trotti, MD, MSc, both of Emory University. Dr. Trotti is the director of the Emory Sleep Center – an RLS Quality Care Center. Together, these researchers have developed models that will help to determine how cerebral spinal fluid from RLS patients affects the iron transport at the blood brain barrier.

Also funded by the NIH are RLS Foundation advisory board member Kathy Richards, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the University of Texas; and Christine Kovach, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the University of Wisconsin. They received a large grant from the National Institute on Aging to improve the treatment of nighttime agitation in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers hypothesize that RLS may be a cause for nighttime agitation and sleep disturbance in these individuals.

These experts have made significant advances in the field of RLS research. Dr. Koo is one of the world’s foremost experts on the epidemiologic research that links periodic limb movements during sleep and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Connor is a leader in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which cells regulate iron. Dr. Rye was part of an international team that identified the first gene variant associated with RLS. And, Dr. Trotti is a two-time recipient of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Foundation Strategic Research Award for her work on central disorders of hypersomnolence, RLS and sleep in neurodegenerative disease.

In addition to their work in research, these experts also work directly with the RLS Foundation to increase their impact on the RLS community. Drs. Connor, Koo and Trotti are all members of the RLSF Scientific and Medical Advisory Board. Dr. Koo and Dr. Trotti serve as the directors of the Yale Center for Restless Legs Syndrome and the Emory Sleep Center, respectively. Dr. Rye is a certified RLS provider at the Emory Sleep Center. Finally, Dr. Koo and Dr. Trotti play a significant role in educating the public, as the medical editor of NightWalkers and the author of the “In the News” column, respectively.

RLS Foundation Scientific and Medical Advisory Board member John W. Winkelman, MD, PhD, of Harvard University; and board member Jeffrey Durmer, MD, PhD, of Fusion Health; have attended numerous meetings with policy makers to advocate the needs of RLS patients.

Christopher Earley, MB, BCh, PhD, FRCPI, also adds a powerful voice to RLS advocacy in Washington. Dr. Earley is not only the chair of the RLS Foundation’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, but also the director of the John’s Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome, an RLS Quality Care Center. He has joined the RLS Foundation in Washington on multiple occasions to advocate for the needs of RLS patients, healthcare providers, and researchers. Dr. Earley is conducting an NIH-funded study to evaluate epigenetic changes in DNA from blood (lymphocytes) and from brain autopsy in individuals with and without RLS.

Here is Dr. Earley’s take on the recently funded research projects: “The truth is, restless legs syndrome is something that most people don’t know about, and definitely very few people understand. When it comes to competing for grant-based money whether through the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, or Department of Defense, name recognition is important. The RLS Foundation’s presence in Washington, DC, has been very important in enhancing visibility of the name and the disease. This gives us a fighting chance for competitive grant money when measured up against heart disease, cancer, and neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Further work is needed. Each visit to Washington increases the possibility of giving RLS higher visibility on grant-supported initiatives.”

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