All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for April 2003

Advances in Basic and Clinical Research on MS Reported at AAN

April 15, 2003
Research Programs Department

Neurologists and neuroscientists from around the world gathered to share their research findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s 55th Annual Meeting in Honolulu March 29-April 5, 2003. Following are selected highlights from over 200 presentations that had relevance to multiple sclerosis.

Investigators reported promising findings from small-scale, early phase studies testing the safety and possible benefits of several experimental treatments.

New Drugs with Potential for Altering Disease

New Attempts to Treat Symptoms
  Primary Progressive MS

Investigators reported on several studies attempting to understand and treat primary progressive MS, which, unlike other forms of the disease, causes worsening symptoms from disease onset without any initial relapses or remissions.

Mixed News on Bone Marrow Transplant

Several investigative teams weighed in with results from ongoing efforts to determine whether killing individuals’ immune cells and reconstituting them with immune stem cells derived from their own blood or bone marrow (a procedure called autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, or bone marrow transplantation) can stop MS. Further trials, which are ongoing, will hopefully sort out issues such as which is the safest protocol and who might best benefit from this high-risk and expensive procedure.

Complementary Therapy Explored GOOD NEWS: PREGNANCY AND COPAXONE

Is there an increased risk of birth defects when a woman becomes pregnant while she is taking Copaxone® (glatiramer acetate)? Since the potential effects of this drug have only been studied in animal pregnancies, Copaxone is not recommended for use during pregnancy. Dr. Patricia Coyle (State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY) and others reviewed past clinical trials and postmarketing surveillance records for information about outcomes from such pregnancies. In most cases, women were exposed to Copaxone only during the first trimester before going off the drug. The good news is, of the 215 pregnancies with known outcomes, the risk of congenital abnormalities was not higher than that observed in the general population, nor was the risk of spontaneous abortion. This study does NOT change recommendations that Copaxone be stopped before a woman begins trying to become pregnant. It may, however, relieve worries of some who accidentally become pregnant before stopping the drug.


MS occurs less frequently in African Americans than in Caucasian Americans, but there appear to be other differences as well. A study comparing the clinical characteristics of MS between these groups, conducted by Dr. Bruce Cree (University of California, San Francisco) and others, found that African Americans tended to have a more aggressive course, and are at higher risk for developing disability and for transitioning into the secondary-progressive form of MS. The investigators also found that African Americans tended to develop MS two years later than Caucasian Americans, but were more quickly diagnosed.

In a separate study, Dr. Cree reported on an analysis of disease activity of African Americans who had participated in a clinical trial comparing Rebif and Avonex over 48 weeks of therapy (“EVIDENCE” trial). Based on a small number of participants (36), the team found suggestions that African Americans in this study responded less to interferon beta therapy than Caucasian participants.


Several reports focused farther on the horizon to new approaches that may ultimately lead to better understanding and treatment of MS.

© 2003 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society