Moving Forward with MS

2010 marks watershed year in multiple sclerosis research

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) This year saw revolutionary new advances made in multiple sclerosis research -- everything from new therapy discoveries to increased understanding of factors that contribute to the debilitating illness.

The National MS Society contributed $36 million toward the support of some 325 new and ongoing projects focused on discovering risk factors that lead to progressive disability, speeding diagnosis, protective mechanisms of vitamin D and estrogen and tests determining whether a new device can improve walking ability, among others.

MS is a progressive autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). MS episodes are caused by the body's immune system attacking the protective lining around nerves known as the myelin sheath.

Moving Forward with Better Treatments

This year resulted in the development of better therapies for MS, including the availability of the first oral, disease-modifying therapy, Gilenya®. The capsules were approved by the FDA for reducing the frequency of clinical relapses and delaying the accumulation of physical disability in relapsing forms of MS.

The FDA also approved Nuedexta®, an oral therapy and the first drug to treat uncontrollable laughing or crying (pseudobulbar affect) in patients with MS and ALS and other disorders.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, and others identified a molecule that appears to stimulate the brain's natural ability to repair myelin in rodents. (Myelin is the sheath covering nerve fibers, which is progressively and irreparably damaged in MS.)

MS experts with input from MS Societies International reached an international consensus on the future of stem cell transplantation research, paving the way for coordinated global research efforts and potentially better, and quicker, patient access to stem-cell clinical trials.

University of California at Los Angeles researchers found depression to be linked to brain-volume loss in specific subregions of the area in the brain known to be important in memory (the hippocamus) in patients with MS. The results warrant further study but point to improving quality of life for those with the disease.

Two small clinical trials are underway examining the role of intestinal parasites possibly reducing immune attacks in MS.

Researchers at BRIC, the University of Copenhagen have developed a therapeutic vaccine from a protein normally found in the body that can act to prevent chronic tissue inflammation. The treatment stands to benefit MS patients as well as those afflicted with other inflammatory diseases, such as theumatoid arthritis (RA), skin hypersensitivity and allergic asthma (AA).

Moving Forward with Better Understanding

In a study of more than 5,000 MS patients, researchers identified characteristics that may help predict the rate of disease progression, including motor symptoms at onset (such as muscle stiffness known as spasticity) and male gender being associated with faster disease progression.

A suspected cholesterol link to MS has been refuted by scientists at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, in which analysis of blood samples failed to turn up any meaningful 15HC or 15KC oxysterol levels (the suspected culprits) of MS patients despite numerous efforts.

A study conducted by University Hospital (Basel, Switzerland) found that mindfulness meditation considerably improved quality of life, depression and fatigue in MS patients.

Although rare, MS is sometimes diagnosed in children. Between 8,000 and 10,000 children under the age of 18 in the United States are affected with 10,000 to 15,000 having experienced at least one symptom suggestive of the disease. Researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, have found that black children may suffer more cognitive disfunction related to language and complex attention (the ability to handle multiple tasks at once) as a result of the disease. 

Harvard School of Public Health showed two individual factors previously shown to increase risk of developing MS (Epstein-Barr virus and smoking tobacco) may interact and increase that risk. The study warrants further confirmation, however. A number of studies also investigated the role of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in association with MS-development and found conflicting evidence. Some studies pointed to an increased risk of developing MS in patients with EBV while others found no correlation.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 21, 2010
Last Updated:
December 22, 2010