More MS news articles for December
Of Research Progress
December 13, 2002
The year of 2002 saw rapid research progress in the fields of science
and medicine that impact our understanding of the unpredictable neurological
disease of multiple sclerosis. Thanks to its generous contributors, the
National MS Society was able to invest over $30 million this year into
MS research projects in the U.S. and abroad.
In 2002, the Society initiated 120 new MS research projects. Thus far,
the Society has committed more than $18 million to targeted research initiatives
including the MS Lesion Project, the Sonya Slifka Longitudinal MS Study,
and individual projects exploring genetic aspects of MS and gender differences.
We now have some $50 million in current and future commitments to over
300 MS research projects, for which money must be raised.
Significant advances have been made in both clinical and laboratory
studies in MS. As the world’s largest private supporter of MS research,
the Society has been at the core of many of these advances during 2002.
Key highlights include:
The U.S. FDA approved Rebif® (Serono Inc.), a form of interferon beta-1a,
for treating relapsing forms of MS. Rebif had been delayed from entering
the market in the U.S. unless “clinical superiority” of Rebif over Avonex
could be demonstrated, which the FDA indicated was accomplished in the
Rebif EVIDENCE study. There are now five drugs – Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone,
Novantrone and Rebif – approved in the U.S. for treating major forms of
MS, but they are only partially effective. The decision of which therapy
is best for any individual should be determined with his or her personal
Cleveland Clinic investigators examined long-standing MS lesions in brain
tissue samples for evidence of repair of nerve-insulating myelin. They
found indicators that the brain makes major attempts to repair itself,
regardless of individuals’ age and type of MS. The appearance and condition
of the myelin-making cells suggested that they are unable to complete the
final steps toward replacing myelin. These cells may present targets for
therapies that can repair myelin damage caused by MS.
Investigators from the Mayo Clinic reported that a newly discovered protein
– myelencephalon-specific protease (MSP) – was dramatically increased in
the brain tissue of people with MS, particularly where the myelin coating
that insulates nerve fibers was under active attack from the immune system.
This study was funded in part by two National MS Society Pilot Research
Awards. If further research can confirm the role of MSP, these findings
may help develop therapies that block tissue damage in MS.
National MS Society-supported investigators at Stanford University and
the University of California at San Francisco reported that the immune
protein “osteopontin” may play a critical role in the immune attack in
MS and its progression. In mice that were genetically engineered to lack
osteopontin, the progression of EAE was inhibited, and the severity of
disease reduced. Further research is required to determine the therapeutic
possibilities osteopontin presents.
A study by researchers at the Center for Health Economics Research and
the University of California, San Diego indicated that health care expenditures
among persons with MS are two to three times higher than those among individuals
without MS. The study was supported in part by the Society’s Health Care
Delivery and Policy Research Program. The investigators suggested
that these higher expenditure levels needed to be taken into account in
the financing of health care for persons with MS.
Two groups of researchers from the U.S., Austria and Germany announced
results suggesting that Lipitor® (atorvastatin) and other “statins,”
drugs usually used to lower cholesterol, has immune regulatory effects
that can treat experimental animal models of MS. Human clinical trials
will be needed to determine whether statins can benefit persons with MS.
At least one preliminary clinical trial is under way, and others are planned.
University of Illinois (Chicago) investigators successfully prevented and
improved EAE, an MS-like disease in mice, using oral compounds known as
“PPAR-gamma ligands,” some of which are currently used to treat diabetes.
This study was supported in part by a research grant from the National
MS Society and could lead the way to a new class of agents that might prove
useful in treating MS.
Six new research projects on sex-based differences in immune responses
were launched as a result of a first-ever collaboration between the National
MS Society and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
The joint venture brings $7.3 million of new funding to support projects
with relevance to MS.
The National MS Society launched three new research programs to speed the
search for a cure and enhance its ability to find answers to health policy/services
questions pertinent to individuals with MS: The Collaborative MS Research
Center awards aim at stimulating creativity and interaction among investigators
working within and outside MS fields; Career Transition Fellowships focus
on attracting new MS researchers to the field; a new in-house health care
policy research program will facilitate quick responses to short-term health
services and health policy research questions and needs.
This year, more than ever before, investigators harnessed new tools,
such as gene-chip technology and new MRI-based imaging techniques, in the
fight against MS. These new technologies are allowing researchers to revisit
age-old questions about this disease in exciting new ways, and may lead
to answers that will allow doctors to stop the immune attack and ultimately,
repair tissue damage to restore function in individuals with MS.
Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have been
searching for genes that help make people susceptible to developing the
autoimmune attack in MS. Early analyses of the genetic makeup of families
affected by MS in Spain revealed and confirmed prior possible links to
“HLA” genes, which dictate many of the body’s immune responses and are
important in autoimmunity and immune system rejection. In another study,
the same team found that early manifestations of MS in the optic nerve
or spinal cord are shared by family members with MS, indicating that genetics
influence the clinical expression of the disease.
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society