Multiple sclerosis (MS) can be a horrible illness that does not respect age or class. Neil Cavuto, Captain Beefheart and Montel Williams are just three well-known people who have said that they have the illness. Here is a list of many other sufferers.
MS is a chronic, inflammatory disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). MS can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including changes in sensation, visual problems, muscle weakness, depression, difficulties with coordination and speech, severe fatigue, and pain. The classic pathology is what is known as demyelination (loss of the myelin that insulates nerve cells). Since myelin is white, the lesions are typically fuond in the white matter of the CNS.
The cause remains unknown, though I shall have more to say about some of the MS theories. Amongst the candidates have been autoimmunity, slow viruses, myelinic enzymes and polio vaccination.
Most people begin to experience symptoms between 20 and 40 years old, and rarely after 50. The onset is usually insidious, though every now and then someone starts with sudden onset of a catastrophic neurological or visual problem. Symptoms are usually vague and the diagnosis is often missed in the early stages. Females are affected slightly more than males. MS seems to be a disease of temperate latitudes in both the Northern or Southern hemispheres and is rarely seen in equatorial regions. This association with latitude has fueled some of the viral theories as well as ideas to do with the impact of decreasing sunlight on vitamin D and cell membrane function.
One of the things that makes the disease such a great masquerader is that it is typically marked by apparently random exacerbations and remissions. As the disease progresses, the remissions become less complete and permanent deficit more apparent.
There is an enormous research literature on MS: over 35,000 papers at last count. But there have been some recent highlights.
There has recently been a major breakthrough in discovering the mechanism by which myelin forms. The finding from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montreal in Canada, could have a major impact on the treatment of multiple sclerosis and demyelination as a result of spinal cord injuries.
Jonah Chan and his colleagues showed that a protein, Par-3, is at the base of the myelination process. This protein becomes localized to one side of the myelin-forming cells that are known as Schwann cells, upon contact with the axon that is to be myelinated. Par-3 acts like a kind of molecular scaffold to set-up an "organizing centre" that brings together the key proteins essential for myelination, in particular a receptor for a molecule that is secreted by the neurons.
The researchers found that when they disrupted this organizing centre, cells could not form myelin normally. Importantly, their discovery demonstrates that Schwann cells need to become polarized so that they know which side is in contact with the axon to initiate wrapping and to bring essential molecules to this critical interface.
These studies open up some new possibilities that should help to identify other components that are recruited at the organizing center set-up by Par-3. In multiple sclerosis, or after injury, Schwann cells can re-myelinate axons of the central nervous system to some degree. Therefore, these experiments bring about the possibility that manipulating the Par-3 pathway might allow for more efficient re-myelination of damaged or diseased nerves.
In a separate study researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have identified a unique mechanism of action of a new drug that shows great promise for the treatment of MS.
The researchers reported the unique action of FTY720, or Fingolimod, an immunosuppressant drug that was already known to affect the functioning of the immune system by preventing the egress of white blood cells from the lymph nodes into the blood. The article was published in Blood: The Journal of the American Society of Hematology, that appeared online on Sept. 28.
In this study, the research team found that FTY720 also inhibited the activity of a key enzyme called cPLA2, which is necessary for the production of inflammatory mediators, known as eicosanoids. Eicosanoids drive inflammatory disorders such as asthma and multiple sclerosis.
The inhibition of cPLA2 would shut down the entire inflammatory pathway, possibly without the side-effects caused by medications such as Vioxx, that have been withdrawn from the pharmaceutical market.
FTY720, is a drug developed by Novartis, has shown considerable therapeutic effects in a recent small, placebo-controlled clinical trial involving patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis. The study was published in the September 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine by an international research team.
I could easily select a dozen more important papers published in the last year, but I am particularly interested in basic research that teaches us something new, and treatments that could fit into a comprehensive Integrated plan of treatment.
I am going to post more about the causes of this illness as well as less orthodox approaches to help the physical, psychological, social, subtle and spiritual aaspects of these illnesses.