Interesting findings, but they haven't quite figured out what to make of them yet...
Italians make MS breakthrough
ANSA - April 19 - Italian scientists have made a breakthrough in multiple sclerosis research, showing that healthy relatives may hold the key to a long-elusive cure for the often devastating condition .
The brains of healthy family members have similar lesions to their relatives with MS but their cerebral tissue seems to have reacted to protect itself, a team led by Maria Giovanna Marrosu of Cagliari University and Nicola De Stefano of Siena University say .
"At first sight the damage to the nerve-cell sheaths appears the same," Marrosu said in a paper published in the Annals of Neurology .
"But once you look closer, you see that the MS sufferers have another set of fuzzier alterations," she explained .
"We already know the brain is able to repair itself. There's something in the healthy ones that protects the nervous system" .
"Perhaps it has something to with a greater plasticity. Anyway, once we find out what it is we may have the key to eliminating the disease" .
Marrosu and De Stefano studied some 400 individuals - half healthy, half with MS - for three years .
They were all around 30-40, the typical age of onset of MS .
At the end of the test period, only one of the healthy subjects had developed the disease and most of the sample had gone past the riskiest age .
"We're pretty sure we can establish the differences between the healthy ones and their less fortunate relatives," said De Stefano .
"Those protective factors could spell the end of MS" .
MS is a lifelong chronic disease diagnosed primarily in young adults, who retain a virtually normal life expectancy .
Estimates suggest that there are 2.5 million people living with MS and that women are twice as likely to be affected than men. Persons living with MS describe changes in sensations, visual problems, muscle weakness, depression, loss of bladder control, dizziness, pain and difficulties with walking, clumsiness and halting speech .
Scientists have learnt a great deal about MS in recent years. But its cause remains elusive. Many investigators believe MS to be an autoimmune disease - one in which the body, through its immune system, launches a defensive attack against its own tissues. The 'non-aggression pact' between the body and its immune system goes awry. The immune system wrongly identifies parts of the body as a foreign threat and declares war. In the case of MS, it is the nerve-insulating myelin that comes under assault. This may be linked to an unknown environmental trigger - a common virus called Epstein-Barr virus seems the likelist candidate. Multiple sclerosis can range from relatively benign to devastating, as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted. There are also different forms of the disease. Twenty years ago, MS sufferers faced a hopeless future of long confinement to a wheelchair within 30 years of diagnosis. However, in the last decade, treatment has changed dramatically. There is still no cure but disease-modifying drugs now slow the progression and control symptoms of the disease.
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