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Archive for the tag “National Multiple Sclerosis Society”

Study Shows Expansion of Stem Cell Clinics in the U.S. and the Need for Better Oversight

Researchers have published a paper describing the proliferation of stem cell clinics in the United States and ethical issues and regulatory concerns that come with marketing unproven treatments for many conditions. Their study shows that many different types of unproven stem cell treatments are being offered, and highlights concerns for the safety of people who undergo these treatments.

There is exciting progress being made through innovative research related to the potential of many types of stem cells for slowing MS disease activity and for repairing damage to the nervous system. At present, there are no approved stem cell therapies for MS. People need the best available information to understand this exciting area of research and make decisions related to this complex issue.

The paper’s findings support the need for stem cell therapy to be explored in the context of carefully conducted clinical trials that can determine what the optimal cells, delivery methods, safety and actual effectiveness of cell therapies might be for people with MS.

Positive Results from Study of Bone Marrow-Derived Stem Cells in People with Aggressive, Relapsing MS

Summary

  • Researchers in Canada have published results of a long-term trial of an individuals’ own (autologous) hematopoietic (blood cell-producing) stem cell transplantation. The study involved 24 people with aggressive relapsing-remitting MS whose disease was not controlled with available therapies.
  • Three years after the procedure, 70% remained free of disease activity, with no relapses, no new MRI-detected inflammatory brain lesions, and no signs of progression.
  • None of the surviving participants, who were followed for 4 to 13 years after the procedure, experienced clinical relapses or required MS disease-modifying therapies to control their disease, and 40% experienced reductions in disability.
  • One of the participants died and another required intensive hospital care for liver complications. All participants developed fevers, which were frequently associated with infections, and other toxicities.
  • Additional research is focusing on figuring out who might benefit from this procedure and how to reduce its risks.

“These results suggest that aggressive MS may be stopped with an effective but risky procedure, for a subset of people,” said Dr. Bruce Bebo, Executive Vice President, Research, at the National MS Society. “Additional research by investigators around the world is focusing on figuring out who might benefit from this procedure and how to reduce its risks, which can include death.”

Details
Background: An experimental procedure that has been explored for several years in MS is called “autologous hematopoietic (blood cell-producing) stem cell transplantation” – or HSCT. This procedure has been used in attempts to “reboot” the immune system, which launches attacks on the brain and spinal cord in people with MS.

In HSCT, the stem cells (derived from a person’s own bone marrow or blood) are stored, and the rest of the individual’s immune cells are depleted by chemotherapy. Then the stored stem cells are reintroduced by infusion into the vein. The new stem cells migrate to the bone marrow and over time produce new blood cells, including immune cells. The goal of this currently experimental procedure is to establish a new immune system that no longer recognizes myelin and other nervous system tissue as dangerous. In theory, this should stop the attacks that lead to tissue damage and disability.

There are a number of laboratories around the world testing variations of HSCT for the treatment of autoimmune diseases, including MS. Preliminary findings suggest this is a promising, but potentially risky strategy for the treatment of MS.

The Study: Drs. Harold Atkins, Mark Freedman and team at the Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa and other institutions in Canada conducted a Phase 2 trial of HSCT that involved 24 people with aggressive relapsing-remitting MS whose disease was not controlled with available therapies. No control group was used which would have enabled comparison against the results found in the treatment group. The procedure used by this group included complete destruction of bone marrow cells and an additional step that enriched the transplanted cells for stem cells.

Results – Safety: One of the participants died of transplantation-related complications that caused liver failure and another required intensive hospital care for liver complications. The treatment regimen was modified over the course of the study to reduce toxicity, but all participants still developed fevers, which were frequently associated with infections.

Results – Effectiveness: Three years after the procedure, 70% of the participants remained free of disease activity, meaning they had no relapses, no new MRI-detected inflammatory brain lesions, and no signs of progression. The remaining 30% experienced progression of disability. In addition, for the entire follow-up period ranging from 4 to 13 years after the procedure, of the 23 survivors:

  • None experienced clinical relapse, had new active inflammatory MRI brain lesions, or required MS disease-modifying therapies to control their disease.
  • The average rate of brain atrophy (shrinkage), a measure that has been linked to MS progression, returned to levels associated with normal aging.
  • 40 percent experienced some lasting reversal of disability such as vision loss, muscle weakness and balance problems.
  • Some were able to return to work or school.

The results were published online on June 9, 2016 in The Lancet.  Major funding for the study came from the MS Society of Canada and its affiliated Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation.

Next Steps: Rigorous clinical trials of stem cell therapies are needed to determine their safety and effectiveness in people with MS. Trials of this and other stem cell therapy approaches are taking place in Canada, the United States, Europe and elsewhere. To help explore the potential of stem cell therapy, in November 2015, the International Conference on Cell-Based Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis was convened in Lisbon, Portugal under the auspices of the International Advisory Committee on Clinical Trials in MS (a group jointly sponsored by the National MS Society and the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis). Seventy leading researchers and clinicians conferred on clinical trials needed to provide answers about which types of cells, which route of delivery, and which types and stages of disease, would be the most promising approach for treating MS. Read more about this meeting

Read more about stem cells and MS

Canadian Researchers Uncover Rare Gene that Increases Risk of Progressive MS

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have uncovered a rare gene mutation that appears to dramatically increase the risk, in some individuals, of developing a severe form of progressive multiple sclerosis. While the cause of MS is not known, scientists believe several different factors, including susceptibility genes, may interact to trigger the disease. The gene was discovered in two unrelated families that had multiple members with MS. The researchers also determined that the gene (NR1H3) contains instructions for a protein called LXRA, which is thought to be a control switch for genes involved in many functions, including some that help control inflammation and integrity of nerve-insulating myelin in the brain and spinal cord. This type of discovery can provide crucial clues to biological pathways that underlie MS, and may lead to new approaches for stopping MS and restoring function. The study, by Drs. Carles Vilariño-Güell, Weihong Song, A. Dessa Sadovnick and others, was funded in part by the MS Society of Canada and appeared in the journal Neuron on June 1, 2016.

German Study Suggests Leukemia and Colorectal Cancer Rates Increased with Mitoxantrone Use for MS

Summary

  • A study of 676 people with MS treated with the MS therapy mitoxantrone in Germany reveals that the rates of acute myeloid leukemia (a type of cancer) and colorectal cancer were significantly increased above what would be expected in the general population there. Rates of other cancers were not increased.
  • The authors note that if the findings are confirmed, recommending colonoscopy after treatment may be advisable, since if found early enough, colorectal cancer is curable.
  • The team (led by Dr. Mathias Buttmann, University of Würzburg, Germany) has published results in Neurology (published early online, May 11, 2016).

Background: Mitoxantrone is a powerful immune-suppressing therapy. Prior to its approval for use in MS, it was used only to treat certain forms of cancer. It acts in MS by suppressing the activity of immune T cells, B cells, and macrophages that are thought to lead the attack on nerve-insulating myelin. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved mitoxantrone for reducing neurologic disability and/or the frequency of relapses in people with secondary progressive MS or worsening relapsing-remitting MS. The total lifetime dose is limited to avoid possible heart damage. Acute myeloid leukemia has been previously reported in people treated with mitoxantrone for MS or cancer.

The Study: Investigators identified 677 people with MS seen at the University of Würzburg MS center between January 1994 and December 2007 who had received mitoxantrone. They were able to follow up with 676 of these patients.

The results show that 37 people developed cancer after taking mitoxantrone, including nine cases of breast cancer, seven cases of colorectal cancer, and four cases of acute myeloid leukemia. The rate of acute myeloid leukemia was 10 times that seen in the general population in Germany. The rate of colorectal cancer was three times that seen in the general population in Germany. The rate of breast and other cancers was not increased over that seen in the general population in Germany. Older age at treatment was associated with increased risk of cancer, but not prior use of other immunosuppressive treatments, or duration of treatment with mitoxantrone.

The team (led by Dr. Mathias Buttmann, University of Würzburg, Germany) has published results in Neurology (published early online, May 11, 2016).

Comment: The authors state that if the findings are confirmed, “posttreatment colonoscopy might improve the risk-benefit ratio of this highly active immunosuppressive drug,” since if found early enough, colorectal cancer is curable. They also note that mitoxantrone is currently the only MS therapy approved for treating secondary progressive MS, and that the overall rate of cancers may still justify the use of mitoxantrone in people who are severely affected with MS and where there are no better treatment options available.

Read more about mitoxantrone
Read more about treating secondary progressive MS
Read more about making treatment decisions in MS

 

Antihistamine Shows Evidence of Stimulating Myelin Repair in Small Phase II MS Study – More studies needed before the full benefits and risks of this approach can be verified

Summary

  • In a small, phase II clinical trial, the oral antihistamine clemastine modestly improved the transmission of electrical signals in the optic nerve in participants with MS who had optic nerve damage.
  • The improved transmission indicates that nerve-insulating myelin was repaired along the nerve pathways.
  • Clemastine is an over-the-counter allergy medication. Doses in this trial exceeded the maximum recommended for over-the-counter use. Clemastine affects a range of targets in the body, and involves the risk for side effects, particularly at increased dosages.
  • This team is planning an additional trial to further determine the safety and effectiveness of clemastine, as well as studies to identify compounds that may enhance myelin repair and cause fewer side effects.
  • Clemastine was identified as having possible myelin-repairing properties through innovative preclinical research conducted by National MS Society-funded Jonah Chan, PhD, who went on to become first recipient of the Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research for this pioneering work.
  • Preliminary results will be presented by the clinical trial’s lead investigator Ari Green, MD (University of California, San Francisco), at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology being held in Vancouver, Canada, April 15 to 21.

Background: In MS, the immune system attacks and destroys myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers, and the nerve fibers can also be damaged. Current therapies are largely aimed at dampening the immune attacks. However, a therapy that repairs damage to myelin and nerve fibers is also necessary.
A team at the University of California, San Francisco led by National MS Society-funded Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar Jonah Chan, PhD, invented a new micropillar technology to rapidly identify compounds that stimulate the regrowth of myelin. The team initiated a screen using this technology, testing a library of 1000 drugs already approved by the FDA for other conditions for their ability to promote the development of myelin-making cells and wrapping of myelin around the micropillars. Clemastine, an oral antihistamine used to treat allergy symptoms, was identified through this process. Dr. Chan was the first recipient of the Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research for this pioneering work.

The Clinical Trial: Ari Green, MD, led the team conducting the clinical trial. They administered oral clemastine or inactive placebo twice daily to 50 people with MS and optic nerve damage for 150 days. For the first three months of the study, people were given either clemastine or a placebo, and for the second two months, those initially given clemastine received the placebo and vice-versa. Tests were performed before and after treatment that measured visual evoked potentials. Visual evoked potentials measure transmission of electric signals along optic nerve pathways in response to stimulation. Delays in this transmission occur when the myelin is damaged and if these delays are reduced, it is an indication that myelin repair is occurring along the nerve pathways. (Participants had significant delays in transmission in at least one eye.)

Delays in visual evoked potential were reduced by 1.9 milliseconds per eye, a statistically significant result. The results hinted at a reduction in vision impairment as well, but it did not reach statistical significance. Fatigue increased mildly in participants taking clemastine.

Clemastine is an over-the-counter allergy medication. Doses in this trial exceeded the maximum recommended for over-the-counter use. Also, clemastine affects a range of targets in the body, and involves the risk for side effects, particularly at increased dosages.

Dr. Green cautions that more research with larger numbers of people is needed before doctors can recommend clemastine as a treatment for people with MS. This team is planning an additional trial to further determine the safety and effectiveness of clemastine, as well as studies to identify compounds that may enhance myelin repair and cause fewer side effects.

Drs. Green and Chan both received Society funding to launch their early careers as independent researchers focused on MS, including Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholar Awards.

Comment: “This preliminary report is exciting, and we look forward to seeing the full results of this clinical trial of clemastine presented and then published,” says Bruce Bebo, PhD, Executive Vice President, Research at the National MS Society. “Finding a way to repair nervous system damage to restore function to people with MS is a very high research priority.”

The 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology will take place in Vancouver, BC, Canada, April 15-21. The National MS Society will be providing reports summarizing studies. Anyone can get a preview of the technical summaries, or abstracts, of presentations to be given at the meeting at this link, free of charge. 

How Do You Weigh the Risks and Benefits of MS Treatments? Take a Survey Developed by Researchers Funded by the National MS Society

Summary: Investigators want to know how people living with MS weigh risks against benefits when choosing MS therapies. This 20-minute survey is funded by the National MS Society, and was developed by Robert Fox, MD, and colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic and the MS patient registry NARCOMS.

Click Here to participate in this survey.

Rationale: Although the effectiveness and risks of MS therapies are well-defined, relatively little is known about how these benefits and risks are perceived and evaluated by people with MS. This benefit/risk trade-off is important for clinicians, industry, and regulators to understand when considering which therapies to develop, approve for use, and recommend. For these reasons, the Society released a targeted request for proposals on this topic. Dr. Fox and colleagues were awarded a Health Care Policy & Delivery Research Contract to administer a large-scale survey regarding preferences related to various benefits/risks of MS therapies. They are looking for patterns of how people weigh risks and benefits based on their health status and other factors.

Goal: The results should provide a deeper understanding of various perspectives concerning risks and benefits of MS therapies among the various stakeholders involved in the development and use of MS therapies: people with MS and their care partners, clinicians, industry, and regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Eligibility and Details: All people who have MS are invited to participate. The survey has a series of questions related to MS, MS therapies, and other personal characteristics; several clinical scenarios accompanied by a series of questions related to your willingness to take risks in each scenario; and questions about how you think people with MS should be involved in the government’s review of new MS therapies. The survey should take about 20 minutes to complete.

Click Here to participate in this survey

If you have questions about the survey, please contact MSregistry@narcoms.org, or 1-800-253-7884.

Read more about NARCOMS.

 

Studies Uncover Possible New Factors That Alter a Person’s Risk for Developing MS

Two recent studies have uncovered new lifestyle factors that may influence whether a person develops multiple sclerosis or not:

Harvard researchers — including National MS Society-funded Dr. Cassandra Munger — reported that children whose mothers were deficient in vitamin D during pregnancy may have nearly twice the risk of developing MS. Additional research is needed to confirm and understand this finding.

On the flip side, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and Johns Hopkins University reported that people who drank about four cups of coffee daily had a lower risk of developing MS compared to those who did not drink coffee. Further research is needed to understand this link.

MORE: Research on risk factors is complicated, and cause and effect are difficult to establish. It’s important to note that not every mother with low levels of vitamin D will have a child who develops MS, and not everyone who drinks large amounts of coffee will avoid developing MS.

Read more about risk factors for MS

Researchers Funded by National MS Society Pinpoint Direct Damage to Nerve Connections in Mice, Independent of Myelin Damage

Summary
• Researchers have found evidence that microscopic connectors in the brain called “synapses” are directly damaged during the course of MS-like disease in mice, in an area of the brain linked to cognitive function.
• The damage appeared to be unrelated to myelin damage, and was linked to a specific molecule called platelet-activating factor receptor.
• Further research will determine whether treatment that protects synapses in the hippocampus may preserve cognitive function in people with MS. The team is pursuing therapeutic candidates based on these findings.
• This research was funded in part by a National MS Society-American Brain Foundation (American Academy of Neurology) Clinician Scientist Development Award to Dr. Matthew Bellizzi.
• The team (Drs. Bellizzi, Harris Gelbard, and colleagues, from the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York) has published results in The Journal of Neuroscience. (2016 Jan 27;36(4):1336-46.)
Background: MS involves immune attacks in the brain and spinal cord. During the course of MS, damage occurs to the myelin that surrounds and protects nerve fibers, and nerve cells and their axons are also damaged. Damage to nerve cells in MS has been linked to cognitive impairment, progressive disability and other symptoms.

The causes of nerve damage are not yet well understood, which has limited progress in developing therapies that prevent damage and preserve nerve function (neuroprotection) to slow or stop progressive disability. Some research has shown that microscopic connectors in the brain called “synapses” may be lost in some parts of the brain during the course of MS, but details have been lacking. Synapses are the point of communication between individual nerve cells, and they are critically important for all functions of the nervous system including memory. A team at the University of Rochester has been attempting to determine the extent of damage to nerve cell fibers and synapses in brain, to find ways to protect nerves from damage.

The Study: The team, led by Matthew Bellizzi, MD, PhD, and Harris Gelbard, MD, PhD (University of Rochester), studied mice with the MS-like disease EAE. They measured the density of synapses in an area of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory function. Although myelin was preserved, synaptic density was reduced by 28%, compared with mice that did not have EAE.

In another study, the team grew nerve cells from the hippocampus in laboratory dishes, and then added brain cells called microglia. This made the synapses more vulnerable to damage, and this damage seemed to be dependent on signals from a molecule called platelet-activating factor receptor (PAFR). To test this, the team administered an experimental molecule – BN52021 – that inhibits PAFR. Administering this molecule before EAE developed did not prevent the disease, but preserved synapses.

This research was funded in part by a National MS Society-American Brain Foundation (American Academy of Neurology) Clinician Scientist Development Award to Dr. Matthew Bellizzi. The team published results in The Journal of Neuroscience. (2016 Jan 27;36(4):1336-46.)

Next Steps: Further research will determine whether treatment that preserves synapses in the hippocampus can improve cognitive function in people with MS. According to a press release from the University of Rochester, the researchers are now focused on exploring potential therapeutic candidates based on these findings.

Read more about research to repair damaged tissue in MS
Read more about efforts to understand how MS affects cognitive function
Watch the educational video, Mood & Cognition in MS: [What you can do].

Hearing Loss and MS

Hearing loss is an uncommon symptom of MS. About 6 percent of people who have MS complain of impaired hearing; hearing loss may take place during an acute exacerbation.
In very rare cases, hearing loss has been reported as the first symptom of the disease.
Deafness due to MS is exceedingly rare, and most acute episodes of hearing deficit caused by MS tend to improve.

Hearing loss is usually associated with other symptoms that suggest damage to the brainstem — the part of the nervous system that contains the nerves that help to control vision, hearing, balance and equilibrium.

Hearing deficits caused by MS are thought to be due to inflammation and/or scarring around the eighth cranial nerve (the auditory nerve) as it enters the brainstem, although plaques (abnormal areas that develop on nerves whose myelin has been destroyed) at other sites along the auditory pathways could also contribute to hearing problems.

Because hearing deficits are so uncommon in MS, people with MS who do develop hearing loss should have their hearing thoroughly evaluated to rule out other causes.

Finding an audiologist or speech-language therapist:
The American Academy of Audiology provides an online search tool to locate audiologists who are members of the Academy. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) provides an online search tool to locate certified speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and audiologists.

American Academy of Audiology
11480 Commerce Park Drive, Suite 220 Reston, VA 20191
Phone: 800-222-2336, website or email

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
2200 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850-3289
Phone: 800-638-8255, website

MRI Study Yields Clues to the Development of Primary-Progressive MS

Summary

  • In a study of 453 people described as having radiologically isolated syndrome (specific areas of damage on MRI scans with no accompanying symptoms), about 12% eventually developed primary-progressive MS. This mirrors the frequency of primary-progressive MS seen in other studies of people with MS.
  • Those who developed primary-progressive MS were more likely to be men, were significantly older, and were more likely to have MS-like lesions in the spinal cord compared to those who went on to develop clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) or relapsing-remitting MS.
  • This study provides a rare glimpse of a very early stage of disease even before progression begins, and provides additional evidence of the value of research into radiologically isolated syndrome. Finding a way to identify and track primary-progressive MS earlier may help to improve access to care for those who have it.
  • The team (Dr. Orhun Kantarci, Mayo Clinic and Foundation, and national and international collaborators) published their findings in Annals of Neurology (published online, December 29, 2015).

Background: Diagnosing MS can be challenging, and it often happens in stages. The term “clinically isolated syndrome” (CIS) is used to describe a first episode of neurologic symptoms  that lasts at least 24 hours and is caused by inflammation and demyelination in one or more sites in the brain and spinal cord. Individuals who experience a CIS may or may not go on to develop definite MS. However, clinical trials of specific disease-modifying therapies have led to approvals for their use to treat CIS.

Some people have specific, “clinically silent” lesions (areas of inflamed or damaged tissue) on MRI, meaning that they are experiencing no symptoms and only have imaging findings. There has been growing research on this phenomenon, called “radiologically isolated syndrome (RIS),” which like CIS may or may not go on to develop into definite MS. There is debate as to whether people with RIS would benefit from early treatment with disease-modifying therapies.

Primary-progressive multiple sclerosis is a relatively rare form of MS, with about 10% of all people with MS receiving this diagnosis. It is characterized by steady worsening of neurologic functioning, without any distinct relapses (also called attacks or exacerbations) or periods of remission.

The Study:  This team examined data from 453 people with RIS collected from 22 investigators in five countries; a database of 210 people with MS in Olmsted County, Minnesota; and a cohort of 754 people with progressive MS.

Of the 453 people with RIS, 128 (28%) went on to develop a first neurological event consistent with CIS or relapsing MS. Of these, 15 (11.7%) developed primary-progressive MS. Those who developed primary-progressive MS were more commonly men, and older at diagnosis by approximately 10 years, than the 113 people who developed CIS/MS. The frequency of primary-progressive MS and age comparisons were similar to those identified in other groups of MS. Of the 15 who went on to develop primary-progressive MS, 12 had MRI scans of the spinal cord, and all 12 had lesions in the spinal cord, compared with 64% of those who developed CIS/MS.

The team (Dr. Orhun Kantarci, Mayo Clinic and Foundation, and national and international collaborators) published their findings in Annals of Neurology (published online, December 29, 2015).

Conclusions: This study provides a rare glimpse of a very early stage of disease even before progression begins, and provides additional evidence of the value of research into radiologically isolated syndrome. Finding a way to identify and track primary-progressive MS earlier may help to improve access to care for those who have it.

Read more about primary-progressive MS

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