Treating Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects the central nervous system (the nerves in the brain and spinal cord). The "electrical" conduit in the central nervous system is a delicate network of nerve fibers. The nerve fibers are surrounded by a layer of fatty tissue, called myelin, which protects the nerve fibers and helps them conduct electrical impulses.
In patients with MS, some areas of the protective myelin are damaged or destroyed. Scar tissue may form at the site. In some cases, the delicate nerve fibers are damaged. The loss of the protective sheath can interrupt the ability of the nerve fibers to conduct electrical signals, disrupting the transmission of nerve impulses to and from the brain.
MS is associated with one of four courses:
1. Relapsing-Remitting. This is the most common form of MS at the time of diagnosis, accounting for about 85 percent of cases. Patients have clear episodes of symptoms (called relapses, flare-ups or exacerbations) associated with a worsening of problems. The episodes are followed by a period of partial or complete recovery (remission). 2. Primary-Progressive. Patients with this form of MS experience a slow, but continuous progression of symptoms. There are no notable periods of exacerbation or remission. However, the rate of progression can vary. About 10 percent of patients with MS have this form. 3. Secondary Progressive. This form of MS is characterized by a period of relapses and remissions, followed by a steady worsening of the disease. About half of those with Relapsing-Remitting MS will develop Secondary Progressive disease. 4. Progressing-Relapsing. This form of MS is characterized by initial steady decline. In addition, patients experience distinct periods of relapse. This form of MS is relatively rare, accounting for only about five percent of cases.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, about 400,000 Americans have MS. The condition is two to three times more common in women than in men. The condition is most commonly diagnosed between 20 and 50. The first sign of the disease is usually some type of vision problem (like blurred vision, double vision, distortion of red-green colors or blindness in one eye). The disease affects people differently and with varying levels of severity. Some other symptoms that may occur include muscle weakness, fatigue, bowel or bladder problems, problems with memory or attention, dizziness, problems with balance or coordination, "pins and needles" sensations, pain, depression, hearing loss, sexual dysfunction and spasticity.
NeuroVax™ for MS The exact cause of MS isn't known. It's believed to be an autoimmune-type disease, in which certain T-cells (specific type of infection-fighting white blood cells) turn against the body and, in MS, attack the myelin. Researchers at Portland V.A. Medical Center and Oregon Health and Science University recently discovered patients with MS have lower levels of a gene called FOXP3. This gene appears to be responsible for the production of regulatory T-cells that keep the destructive T-cells in check. Reduced levels of the FOXP3 gene may allow the "bad" T-cells to proliferate and attack the myelin.
Investigators are testing a new vaccine that aims to increase FOXP3 levels and activate the regulatory T-cells. It's called NeuroVax™ (Immune Response Corp.). NeuroVax contains three peptides, or receptors for the regulatory T-cells. When injected into an MS patient, the drug appears to stimulate the regulatory T-cells, hopefully enabling the cells to control the proliferation of the attacking T-cells. The drug would initially be given once a month for three months, followed by booster injections every three to six months.
Preliminary research shows promise. About one-third of those who responded to the injections got better. The treatment appears to help patients with early stage disease and those with later stages, as well. There is also some evidence NeuroVax may promote repairs in the central nervous system and help patients recover from the damage.
For information on multiple sclerosis: Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, http://www.msaa.com
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, http://www.msfacts.org
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, http://www.ninds.nih.gov
National Multiple Sclerosis Society, http://www.nmss.org
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