Ivanhoe Broadcast News
BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis is believed to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves. A fatty tissue called myelin surrounds and protects the nerve fibers and helps them conduct electrical impulses. In MS patients, the myelin is lost and the nerve impulses cannot travel across the nerve fibers. Messages for movement do not reach areas like the arms and legs. Symptoms of MS range from fatigue to vision problems to slurred speech and bladder problems. Most people with MS eventually have trouble walking. They often end up relying on walkers or even wheelchairs with time. While some of the symptoms come and go over the course of the disease, others are long lasting. There is currently no cure for MS, but medications available can slow the progression of the disease. MS is not contagious and is not considered a fatal disease. Approximately 300,000 people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis.
SLOWING THE DISEASE: Researchers around the country are currently looking to another medication to help people with multiple sclerosis. The drug, Fampridine-SR, is an experimental medication. Fampridine enhances conduction in damaged nerves by working to block potassium channels in the axons, a part of the nerve. Phase 2 clinical studies of Fampridine-SR in patients with MS were encouraging enough that researchers are embarking on additional studies looking at the drug's effectiveness in helping patients prolong their ability to walk.
Patients in the study performed a 25-foot walk, which is a standard test used to evaluate neurological conditions.
GOALS: Neurologist Dr. Bill Lindsey of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston said, "What we're hoping is that people will have some improvement in some of their symptoms and the symptoms they're looking at in this study are walking speed and muscle stiffness that you get with MS." Patients in the study are people who already are suffering from the symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. Lindsey said they're hoping for a partial improvement in areas where the myelin has been damaged but the nerve cells remain intact. Lindsey pointed out that the medication will not be able to help the nerve cells that are damaged, so while it may help patients walk faster, those who already rely on an aid still are likely to remain dependent on that aid.
OTHER USES: Researchers also are testing Fampridine-SR for its effectiveness in treating people with spinal cord injuries. The goal in that study is to determine if the drug can improve bowel and bladder control, increase sexual function, and decrease spasticity.
SIDE EFFECTS: Studies show Fampridine-SR does have a number of
side effects. These include numbness, tingling, headache, insomnia, dizziness,
anxiety, nausea and seizures.
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