Research Progress

A breakthrough in reversing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) has been reported in the medical journal, Lancet Neurology. To date, all treatments for MS have been designed around slowing down the rate of neurological decline. This is the first treatment to address reversing neurological dysfunction. It’s an exciting new development but it’s still early days and there is no proof yet that it can cure a person with MS.

ms-nerve-damageMultiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease, whereby the body destroys its own myelin (protective coating surrounding the nerves in the central nervous system). Because the myelin is damaged, messages moving along the nerve are transmitted more slowly or not at all.  It affects 2.5 million people globally and can cause mild illness in some people and permanent disability in others. Symptoms may include numbness or weakness in the limbs, loss of vision and an unsteady gait.

At this time, it is not known what causes MS. There are two main classifications of the disease: progressive and relapsing remitting. Within the first classification there are two more differentiations, primary progressive and secondary progressive. Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) is characterized by a slow and continuous deterioration from the beginning, while Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) becomes progressive following a course of attacks and recoveries. Within the second classification there are also two differentiations, benign and relapsing remitting. People with benign MS suffer the least amount of disability and seem to recover fully from their attacks, while people with relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) do not recover as well from attacks but do enjoy remissions.

Researchers in the US have succeeded in reversing the symptoms in early stage MS patients by using bone marrow stem cell transplants to ‘reboot’ the immune system. In this uncontrolled trial, a new low intensity conditioning regimen was used and unlike some of the previous studies of this procedure, this one involved 21 people with relapsing-remitting MS, rather than people with later stage, progressive disease.  It involved people who had signs of very active immune attacks who had not been helped by standard therapies such as interferon beta. The average age of participants was 33 years and the median duration of their disease was five years, with moderate disability scores ranging from 2.0 to 5.5 points. In this trial, they found that the procedure was relatively safe, and after an average of 37 months, none had progressed and a significant portion experienced a reversal of at least 1 point on their disability (EDSS) scores, and 76% remained free from relapses. Many had improvements in walking, vision, incontinence and limb strength.

As pointed out by the investigators, it will take larger-scale, controlled trials to determine whether this expensive, potentially risky procedure is superior to other approved treatment options. This new research is still only in the early phases of development but at least, it’s a step in the right direction. Fingers crossed Damien!

Source: National Multiple Sclerosis Society and The Irish Times online.

3 Responses to Research Progress

  1. Grannymar says:

    Another step on the road of progress, and a ray of hope for the future.

  2. Wow, brilliant stuff. One wonders if any of the findings can be applied to any other autoimmune diseases. Though, mind you, as my doctor said a while ago, there is so much variation, so many differences that you could spend forever trying to find cures.
    Here’s hoping though.

  3. Steph says:

    Grannymar – I spotted this development in the newspaper while visiting in the nursing home. The wife of another resident (in her 80’s) overheard me comment to my father about it and literally cheered with delight at the news. This lady had lost her daughter (in mid-20’s) to a particularly rare and severe form of MS and she’d always hoped since that she would live long enough to hear of a breakthrough in treatment. We shared a hug to celebrate this potential ray of hope.

    AV – Thanks! Many moons ago,I worked as a research technician with MS patients and so any developments in this field tend to fascinate me. I hope that by writing this article, it will have helped others to understand a little bit more about MS. Prognosis varies greatly from person to person despite the diagnostic label. This research does indeed look like progress and should give hope to many.

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