The scientific advances, research and clinical trials associated with the diagnosis and treatment of MS are accelerating at an amazing pace. It seems as if every day brings exciting news regarding improved medicines, restorative therapies and diagnostic techniques. This SharePost will focus on five advances that hold promise to restore hope and function for those dealing with the challenge of MS. Please note that these advances are at various stages of development, yet in total, they are indicative of the great progress that is being made in dealing with MS.
- An Enhanced Understanding of How Neuroimmunoligical Disorders Impact the Immune System - nerve damage is caused by a misguided immune system that mistakes the central nervous system as a target to be attacked. This is an intensely complex process that has been very difficult to understand. The development of treatments to reduce or negate this process is the key to eradicating MS. However, recent advances in understanding how chronically activated immune cells actually penetrate brain tissue to cause damage has revealed a specific potassium channel characteristic, called Kv1.3. This is an extremely important discovery as drugs could be used to block Kv1.3, and therefore eliminate the rogue immune cells from causing harm.
- Myelin is the protective substance that wraps around nerves and enhances transmission. Disability arises in MS when myelin is damaged by a malfunctioning immune system. Scientists are discovering how the key components of myelin interact with the nerves to protect from damage. Specific proteins have been identified that serve as the "protective force." This knowledge may enable the development of novel techniques using proteins to protect or repair nerves without necessitating the creation of new myelin. Scientists have identified several promising compounds that appear to protect the nervous system. And better yet, several of these drugs are already being used to treat fungal infections and depression.
- Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) - for many people the first signs of MS involve blurred version as caused by optic neuritis. It appears as if the very sensitive nerves in the back of the eye tend to be a vulnerable area for the onset of MS-related damage. OCT provides a sensitive, quantitative and easy way to measure the health of nerve fibers in the back of the eye. OCT holds the potential to assess the existence of nerve-related damage possibly before any other symptoms of MS have developed. As such, the possibility exists to allow earlier medical or treatment intervention before more significant nerve damage and impairment ensues.
- Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Cycle Therapy in Progressive Multiple Sclerosis - FES is a safe, activity-based rehabilitation technique in which electrodes are placed under the skin that stimulate leg and arm muscles to function in a programmed manner, such as peddling a bicycle. This stimulation allows patients, including those with significant disability, to pedal a cycle using their own muscles and to receive all the benefits of exercise. But there is more: not only did the patients who received FES enjoy the benefits of being more active, analysis of cerebrospinal fluid revealed enhanced neural repair and reduced inflammation within the central nervous system.
- Fingolimod - Data from clinical studies suggest that Fingolimod may positively mediate the course of MS. Imaging studies in an animal model of MS point to enhanced myelination and nerve protection following oral administration of the drug. Currently, no marketed treatments for MS can produce remyelination, and that is why Fingolimod holds such promise. Remyelination is the means by which MS patients may actually see potential restoration of function. Thus, in addition to its anti-inflammatory effects in MS, this novel therapy may have the potential to reduce nerve damage as well as promote repair of the central nervous system.
There is still much time and research required to better understand the MS disease process and the means by which restoration of function can occur. But as evidenced by the advances mentioned in this SharePost, the medical / research community is moving quickly. It is possible that in the near future doctors will be able to diagnose earlier, institute remedial drugs to reverse the course of the disease and possibly restore function.