October 25, 2003
Ivanhoe Broadcast News
Multiple sclerosis affects nearly 2.5 million people worldwide, and each week about 200 people are diagnosed with the disease.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is more prevalent in women than in men. Studies have shown genetic factors make some people more susceptible to developing MS, but there is no evidence that it is an inherited disease. Diagnosis usually occurs between ages 20 and 50.
MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
A tissue called myelin surrounds the nerves and helps signal electrical impulses. MS damages myelin in many areas -- leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. The damage to the myelin decreases the nerves' ability to send impulses to the brain and spinal cord.
Symptoms of the disease vary but can include slurred speech, tremors, vision problems, stiffness, fatigue, and bladder problems.
MS is not considered a fatal disease. Thanks to new treatments that slow progression and other technological advances, many people with MS never become severely disabled.
Since there is no way to prevent or cure MS, current treatments aim to manage symptoms and stabilize the progression of disease.
Most drugs prescribed for the disease aim to modify the immune system's response and reduce inflammatory effects.
Corticosteroid drugs are often used to treat MS relapses. The medication has proved helpful in decreasing the length of relapses and promoting remission.
Interferon beta is the treatment of choice for relapsing-remitting
MS. This type of medication is given in the form of an injection and reduces the number and size of active lesions in the brain.
Other drugs used to treat symptoms of MS include glatiramer, azathioprine and methotrexate.
Researchers from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta are studying a new drug called NBI-5788, which they say may help decrease attacks and progression of disability in patients with MS.
Rather than trying to suppress the immune system, like other medications do, NBI-5788 takes advantage of the immune system's natural response.
Researchers hope the drug will interact with immature white blood cells in the immune system and allow them to become a more protective type of white blood cell. The drug -- an altered peptide ligand -- is administered just under the skin and works because it resembles the myelin tissue.
Patients participating in the study receive a weekly dose of the drug for five weeks, then just one dose every month. So far, researchers say the results have been encouraging. Some possible side effects of the drug may include hypersensitivity, allergies and skin reactions.
However, doctors say the drug appears to be safe.
"The benefits that we saw from the earlier trials were that it appeared
to be a well-tolerated medication, it was easy to give in a once-monthly
dose, and it suppressed the MRI activity, mainly in the form of active
inflammation,” said Dr. Ben Thrower of the Shepherd Center.
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