TB Vaccine May Help Prevent MS

Multiple sclerosis warded off with vaccine in some patients with clinically isolated syndrome

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a tricky disease that’s sometimes difficult to diagnose. Researchers investigated if a vaccine might be helpful in stalling the disease in people who showed signs of MS.

A vaccine that’s used to treat tuberculosis (TB) in other countries may delay the onset of MS or affect its long-term course, a small study has discovered.

The authors said that while the results of this study were promising, more research is needed before this vaccine might be used.

"If you suddenly have coordination problems, see your doctor."

A team of investigators led by Giovanni Ristori, MD, PhD, of Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, tested a vaccine called Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) on individuals who showed early signs of MS.

The BCG vaccine is used in other parts of the world to prevent TB, but is generally not recommended for use in the US for a variety of reasons.

For this small trial, the researchers tested the vaccine on individuals who had early signs of MS.

The authors explained in the study's introduction that most cases of multiple sclerosis begin with what doctors refer to as clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), which is usually reversible.

CIS symptoms can include problems with balance, walking, vision or numbness that lasts for 24 hours or longer. About half of the individuals with CIS will be clinically diagnosed with MS within the following two years, and 10 percent will have no further symptoms.

The 73 people involved in this study had CIS and had undergone an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) that showed signs of possible MS.

These participants were randomly assigned to receive either a single injection of the BCG vaccine or a placebo (sugar pill). Study members had monthly brain scans for six months. They were then given medication used to treat MS — interferon beta-1a (brand names Avonex and Rebif) — for one year. Participants were then given the MS medication recommended by their neurologist and followed for a total of five years.

The six-month scan showed that participants who had been vaccinated had fewer brain lesions (signs of MS) than those given a placebo. Vaccinated paricipants had an average of 3.06 lesions, while those on placebo had 6.62 lesions.

After five years of follow-up, more than half (58 percent) of those vaccinated had not been diagnosed with MS, compared to 30 percent of the people who had received a placebo.

No major side effects were seen in either group.

Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of Neuroscience, Neuropsychology & TBI Research at Kessler Foundation, who was not involved in the study, said, “Although utilizing less rigorous methodology, 5-year follow-up showed lower probability of diagnosis of clinically definite multiple sclerosis in the vaccinated group.

"More research is necessary before offering such treatment clinically. However, this study is extremely promising in its documented impact on disease progression. Future research should seek to replicate these results in independent samples, begin to address dosage issues and examine longer term impact of the treatment in a methodological vigorous manner," Dr. Chiaravalloti told dailyRx News.

This study was published in the December issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The research was funded by the Italian Ministry of Health, Center for Experimental Neurological Therapies and the Fondazione Italiana Sclerosi Multipla (FISM).

A number of the authors reported financial ties with various pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
December 13, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014