More MS news articles for December
Of Research Progress - 2003
December 12, 2003
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society
The year of 2003 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 nearly $33 million this year into
MS research projects in the U.S. and abroad. In 2003, the Society supported
over 300 MS research projects including the launch of 121 new projects.
To support special targeted research initiatives, so far the Society has
committed more than $21.4 million toward the MS Lesion Project, the Sonya
Slifka Longitudinal MS Study, and individual projects exploring genetic
aspects of MS and gender differences.
Significant advances have been made in both clinical and laboratory
studies in MS. In addition, nearly 160 clinical trials are underway around
the world, and still other experimental drugs are in the pipeline. Key
highlights of the year include:
Promising results were published from an early-phase clinical trial of
the monoclonal antibody Antegren® (natalizumab) in relapsing forms
of MS. Those treated with Antegren for 6 months had fewer relapses and
areas of myelin damage than those treated with placebo. Antegren inhibits
movement of immune cells from the bloodstream into the brain. Larger-scale
trials are underway to determine if it can safely benefit people with MS.
Italian researchers reported that immature nerve cells (adult mouse neural
stem cells, or neurospheres) injected into the blood or brain cavities
of mice with MS-like disease can move throughout the brain and spinal cord
to sites of tissue damage, promote repair of nerve-insulating myelin, decrease
damage to nerve fibers, and reverse clinical disease. If confirmed, this
may help find a way to repair nerve tissue damage in people with MS.
The U.S. FDA approved revised labeling of Betaseron® (interferon beta-1b)
to extend its use to treat “relapsing forms of MS,” including individuals
with secondary-progressive MS who experience relapses, or acute attacks.
The FDA also extended the labeling of Avonex® (interferon beta-1a)
to include those who experience their first clinical episode and have MRI-detected
brain lesions consistent with MS. These labeling changes mean more treatment
options for people with MS and those suspected of having MS. A small study
found that the cholesterol-lowering pill Zocor® (simvastatin) safely
reduced the number of new brain lesions in 30 people with relapsing-remitting
MS. Larger, controlled studies are planned to ascertain the effectiveness
of Zocor and possibly other similar “statin” drugs for treating MS.
The Society convened an international Task Force on Nervous System Repair
to identify next steps to speed the development of repair strategies to
restore nerve function in MS. And in conjunction with NIH, the Society
brought together the world’s top genetics experts to establish new lines
of communication and find ways to hasten the search for MS genes.
Society-funded researchers in Maryland completed a “National Study of the
Utilization of Health-Promoting and Preventing Measures in MS.” They interviewed
2,554 people with MS and compared them to the general population, and found
that people with MS (and their physicians) are paying attention to non-MS
health issues. But those with severe MS mobility impairment, and those
who see a neurologist for ALL of their medical care, use fewer important
preventive measures, suggesting a need for education related to health
promoting behavior in this population.
The oral drug Aricept® (donepezil hydrochloride) modestly improved
performance on a memory test in 69 individuals with MS with mild to moderate
cognitive impairment. Larger studies are needed to confirm the safety and
benefits of this medication.
Researchers reported that in a study of more than 20,000 Norwegians, the
risk of developing MS was nearly twice as high among smokers than people
who never smoked. Further study is necessary to confirm and to explain
Results from a clinical trial of oral marijuana derivatives for the treatment
of MS symptoms, involving 657 people across the United Kingdom, showed
that these agents did not provide objectively measured improvement in spasticity
experienced by persons with MS, but confirmed prior suggestions that patients
using marijuana felt better in ways that could not be measured by their
The Society launched three new Collaborative MS Research Centers, five-year,
$825,000 awards for expert scientists and clinicians from a variety of
fields to team up on promising avenues of research. Projects for 2003 involve
the search for MS genes, developing better diagnostic technologies, and
testing possible strategies for myelin repair.
Australian researchers reported that higher sun exposure during ages 6
to 15 and greater sun-related skin damage were associated with a lower
risk of MS. It is proposed that sun exposure and the resulting increase
of vitamin D production in the body could be protective for MS. This study,
which examined 136 people with MS and 272 controls without MS who were
residents of the island of Tasmania, is the basis for a Society-funded
research project to examine this association throughout Australia.
In 2003, great strides were made in the development and testing
of novel therapies for MS. Further clinical trials to confirm exciting,
early findings may bring about more treatment options for people with this
Copyright © 2003, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society