MS news articles for Nov 2001
of Research Progress - 2001
November 30, 2001
This has been another exciting year
for MS research. Thanks to funds provided by its chapters and private donors,
in 2001 the National Multiple Sclerosis Society was able to spend almost
$28 million to support research programs to find the cause, treatments
and cure for MS. Over half of the Society’s $320 million cumulative investment
in research has been made over the past ten years – one indicator of the
accelerating pace and cost of research and our readiness to meet them.
In 2001, the Society initiated 124
new MS research projects. Thus far, the Society has committed $14.9 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 over $40 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 laboratory and clinical 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 2001. Key highlights include:
An international panel, organized and
supported by the National MS Society, published the first revised diagnostic
criteria for MS in 20 years. The new criteria provide guidelines for using
MRI, analysis of spinal fluid and visual evoked potentials to supplement
the diagnostic process.
Promising results were reported from
an early-phase trial of Antegren®, a monoclonal antibody that blocks
movement of immune cells into the brain, in relapsing-remitting and secondary-progressive
forms of MS. Larger-scale studies are planned of Antegren, alone and in
combination with Avonex® (interferon beta-1a).
Two separate studies reported that both
Avonex and Copaxone® (glatiramer acetate) can slow the accumulation
of “black holes,” which are intense MRI-detected brain lesions that indicate
relatively severe tissue damage, in persons with relapsing MS
In a combination study of Avonex and
Copaxone, investigators treated 33 people with relapsing-remitting MS with
Avonex and Copaxone concurrently and found that treatment was safe, warranting
a larger trial.
As part of its targeted research efforts
on gender differences in MS, the Society entered into an unprecedented
$20-million dollar collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and other institutions to fund research
to define differences in immune responses between males and females, ultimately
to increase understanding and treatment of immune-based diseases such as
Society-funded researchers at the University
of California, Los Angeles administered the sex hormone estriol to six
women with relapsing-remitting MS and six with secondary-progressive MS.
Treatment was well tolerated and somewhat effective in reducing lesions
in relapsing-remitting MS, but not in progressive MS. This trial was funded
through the Society’s targeted research initiative on gender differences.
The Society brought together nearly
100 basic and clinical experts from around the globe to discuss why nerve
cells are damaged or disrupted in MS, and therapeutic possibilities. A
follow-up workshop will focus on how to repair damaged nerve cells.
Yale University researchers performed
the first known surgical attempt to repair an MS brain lesion by transplanting
myelin-making cells from the peripheral nervous system. The safety and
effectiveness of this treatment are not yet known.
A short (6-month) study pitting Rebif®
(interferon beta-1a) against Avonex in relapsing-remitting MS showed significant
benefit for Rebif over Avonex in reducing relapses and accumulation of
MRI-detected lesions. Also in relapsing-remitting MS, Betaseron® (interferon
beta-1b) reduced relapse rates, the appearance of new lesions and overall
lesion activity more effectively than Avonex over two years. The full results
of these studies have not yet been published, and how these findings relate
to clinical practice is currently unknown.
Reports indicated no link between vaccinations
and MS. Investigators at Harvard found those who had received hepatitis
B vaccination were no more likely to develop MS than those who had not.
Investigators in Europe and Canada found no connection between influenza,
hepatitis and tetanus vaccination and relapses of MS.
This fruitful year has brought us closer
to achieving our goal: to end the devastating effects of multiple sclerosis.
The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute
of Medicine published results of a comprehensive, independent review of
MS research. The report, contracted by the Society, concludes that MS research
is generally on track and making important inroads, and made 18 recommendations
for future strategies.