A wide range of clinical trials have been conducted with the aim of improving our understanding of MS and developing a cure.
Credit: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock.com
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease affecting the central nervous system. It is an autoimmune disorder which severely disrupts the myelin sheath surrounding the nerve fibers of the central nervous system.
Factors promoting MS
Research suggests that MS is caused by a genetic predisposition coupled with certain environmental factors, however, the exact cause of the condition remains a controversial topic.
It is thought that some cases of MS might be triggered following a viral or bacterial infection, in which the foreign agents have similar surface molecules to those of human brain cells. This is known as molecular mimicry and causes the immune cells of the body to start attacking the patient’s own cells.
In addition, damage to blood-brain barrier, the layer which separates the brain and spinal cord from the immune system, allows immune cells to enter the CNS, thereby allowing access to the nerve cells, causing damage.
Researching and analyzing genetic susceptibility
A genetic predisposition towards the disease has been identified. However, scientists found that as there is only 33% possibility of both monozygotic twins having MS, therefore there must be other reasons influencing the disease.
It is now widely accepted that there are several genetic mutations which can lead to MS.
Key factors regulating MS
Sunlight - Studies have indicated that people exposed to an optimum amount of sunlight each day are less susceptible to MS. This may be because Vitamin D, which is produced in response to sunlight, stimulates the immune system in such a manner that it reduces the chances of MS.
Smoking - Though the exact cause is not known; however, smokers have shown a high inclination in developing MS.
Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) infection - It has been suggested that individuals have been infected by EBV during their lifetime might have a higher risk of developing MS.
Research on the plaques in the brain
MS is caused by inflammation in the brain that damages the protective myelin sheath. This process leaves plaques of dead neurons.
Changing paradigms in treating MS
Advances in treating the episodes of MS
MS is a disease which has no permanent cure; however recent developments mean that medicines are now available which can reduce the intensity and extent of recurring episodes of MS.
The most widely used treatment for MS is steroids. However, American Academy of Neurology recently introduced a technique known as plasmapheresis for the treatment of MS.
Advances in treating the disease action and advancement
Major advances have been made in last two decades in treating MS, however, there is still no cure for the condition. In an effort to improve the quality of life for patients with MS, and find a cure, scientists are focusing on three main areas:
- Preventing damage to the myelin sheath: researchers are currently developing drugs which can prevent damage to the myelin sheath. One of the ways they are doing this is through establishing the relationship between the gut microbiome and MS. They are also trying to develop methods to prevent immune cells passing through the blood-brain barrier.
- Repairing the damage: trials are underway to develop a method by which the demyelination of neurons can be reversed.
- Establishing risk factors: Scientists are carrying out studies to establish how factors such as obesity, smoking and exercise may affect the condition.
Major research in treating MS
A clinical trial conducted at the University of Ottawa showed that treating the damaged immune system extensively with chemotherapeutic agents followed by stem cell therapy could stop MS. This approach was a major development for patients with MS, and continues to be researched.