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Survey on Complementary/Alternative Medicine Points to Increasing Use by People with MS

The use of complementary and alternative therapies – including vitamin/mineral supplements, mind-body therapies, diet, and exercise – is widespread in MS (81%), according to researchers from Oregon Health & Science University who report on a survey of 1,014 people with MS. It is also on the rise; the team compared these survey results to those of a similar survey conducted in 2001, and found that use of all therapies increased significantly. Respondents to the current survey were nine times more likely to speak with their neurologist about use of these therapies than in 2001.

Many complementary/alternative therapies are considered to be outside the realm of conventional medicine, although others, including vitamin D, exercise, acupuncture, and cooling strategies, for example, have established their role in comprehensive care through scientific study and clinical trials. The survey results highlight the need for  more research to determine the safety and effectiveness of specific complementary and alternative therapies, conclude the study authors. This study was partly funded by the National MS Society. Lead author Elizabeth Silbermann, MD, is funded by the Society’s Sylvia Lawry Fellowship, which trains individuals to conduct clinical research in MS.

Read more on the OHSU website

Read a scientific summary of the paper in MS and Related Disorders

Read more about complementary therapies and MS, including questions to ask when considering a complementary/alternative therapy

More on COVID-19 and MS

Coronavirus Risk for People Living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

MS itself does not increase the risk of getting COVID-19. However, certain factors associated with your MS may increase your risk for complications:

  • Chronic medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, smoking and asthma
  • Significantly restricted mobility, such as needing to spend most of your day seated or in bed
  • Age 65 or older
  • Possibly taking certain disease modifying therapies that deplete immune system cells
  • Severe obesity or BMI higher than 40
  • Living in a long-term care facility

Sometimes, the body’s response to infections, including COVID-19, may cause a temporary worsening of MS symptoms. Typically, these symptoms settle down once the infection clears up. If you are experiencing new MS symptoms or have any concerns about any of your MS symptoms, please contact your MS healthcare provider.

Protecting Yourself from Coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides recommendations on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and what to do if you show symptoms.

Working and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

MS Healthcare ProvidersHealthcare providers who treat people living with MS can find additional information in our Professional Resource Center.

Healthcare Workers Who Have MS

  • There is no increased risk of you getting COVID-19 because you have MS.
  • If you are concerned about your risk of getting COVID-19 because of the DMT you take, please contact your MS provider for advice.
  • There are no special PPE instructions for people with MS. You should follow the same precautions as other healthcare workers. If you are concerned about your risk due to your DMT, please contact your MS provider for advice.

Employee RightsThere are many protections that could be available to you if your employer is not being flexible with work from home options or workplace accommodations. Visit our employment resources page to learn more or contact an MS Navigator to discuss your individual rights and options.

Children with MS

There is no specific advice for children with MS; they should follow the advice above for all people with MS. The CDC has specific recommendations for children and COVID-19.

Pregnancy

At this time there is no specific advice for women with MS who are pregnant. There is general information on COVID-19 and pregnancy on the CDC website.

Additional Resources

What You Need to Know about Coronavirus

February 27, 2020

What is the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)?
Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness  that can spread from person to person. At this time, it’s unclear how easily the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading between people.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Most people who contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, but some people will have more severe symptoms. Symptoms can include:
• fever
• cough
• difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)

How can I help protect myself?
There are simple everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.
These include
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid close contact (at least 3 feet away) with people who are sick.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What does COVID-19 mean for people living with MS?
Many disease modifying therapies (DMTs) for MS work by modifying or suppressing the immune system. People with MS who are treated with these therapies can face an increased risk of infections. If you are taking a DMT and believe you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are confirmed to have this infection, please contact your neurologist or primary care healthcare provider.

Other resources

Stem cells hold promise for MS

Stem cells

There is exciting and innovative research and progress occurring related to the potential of many types of stem cells for slowing MS disease activity and for repairing damage to the nervous system. In light of the urgent need for more effective treatments for MS, particularly for those with more progressive forms of the disease, we believe that the potential of all types of cell therapies must be explored.

Stem cell therapy is any treatment that uses or targets stem cells, which are the types of cells that differentiate into many different specialized cells in our bodies. Stem cells are found in both embryos and adults.

Many types of stem cells are being explored for their potential benefits for treating multiple sclerosis. Only when the results of these and subsequent clinical trials are available will it be possible to determine what the optimal cells, delivery methods, safety and actual effectiveness of these current experimental therapies might be for people with MS.

Although cell based therapy has generated a great deal of interest and holds promise, the field is in its infancy and much more research is needed before cell based therapies become a MS treatment option.

Different Types of Stem Cells

  • HSCs (haematopoietic stem cells) – adult stem cells that are found in bone marrow and blood. HSCs are capable of producing all of the cells that make up the blood and the immune system.
  • MSCs (mesenchymal stem cells) – adult stem cells found in several places in the body, including the bone marrow, skin and fat tissue. They produce cells which help other stem cells function properly.
  • NSCs (neural stem cells) – specialized stem cells responsible for repairing nerve-insulating myelin in the brain. These can be derived from other types of stem cells such as mesenchymal cells.
  • hESCs (human embryonic stem cells) – stem cells derived from donated embryos. They can naturally produce every type of cell in the body. One concern about their potential therapeutic use is that they have been found to cause tumors.
  • iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells) are engineered from adult cells to produce many types of cells. One concern about their potential therapeutic use is that they have been found to cause tumors.

www.nmss.org  The National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Zinbryta (daclizumab), a Therapy for Relapsing MS, is Withdrawn from Market

  • Biogen and AbbVie have announced the voluntary withdrawal Zinbryta ™ (daclizumab) from the worldwide market.
  • Zinbryta is an immune-modulating therapy that was approved in 2016 for people with relapsing MS and generally reserved for people who had an inadequate response to two or more MS therapies.
  • According to a company press release, the European Medicines Agency had raised new safety concerns related to reports of inflammation of the brain or its surrounding tissues (inflammatory encephalitis and meningoencephalitis) among people taking Zinbryta.
  • Individuals currently taking Zinbryta should contact their healthcare providers to determine alternative treatment options, and to continue safety monitoring. According to the medication guide, this would include monthly blood tests to monitor liver function for up to six months after the last dose.

Swedish Study Compares Rituximab with Approved Therapies for Relapsing MS

  • Researchers from Sweden used medical records to evaluate treatment outcomes in people whose initial therapy for MS was rituximab (an off-label therapy that targets immune B cells) compared to those given an approved MS disease-modifying therapy.
  • A higher proportion of people initially given rituximab remained on it, compared to those remaining on their initial therapy in the other groups.
  • Understanding which individuals do best on what therapies is important for enabling people with MS to make the best treatment choices. For this reason, results of controlled trials – several of which are now underway – are needed to truly understand the comparative effectiveness of MS therapies.
  • The report was published online January 8, 2018 in JAMA Neurology.

DETAILS
Background: An important question in the treatment of MS is whether to start treatment for relapsing MS with a powerful therapy at the outset (called induction therapy), or to take a more traditional approach of starting with less powerful therapy and ramping up to a more powerful approach if relapses or other signs of disease activity continue (called escalation therapy).

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute (Stockholm, Sweden) set out to compare outcomes of people receiving induction therapy with a drug called rituximab, which is not specifically approved for the treatment of MS, compared to those receiving escalation therapy with one of the approved disease-modifying therapies. The investigators tracked whether the participants remained on therapy or discontinued it, which is an indirect measure of how well the treatment performed.

Rituximab: Rituximab is a monoclonal antibody (a protein made in the laboratory) that targets a specific protein (“CD20”) on the surface of immune B cells. B cells are known to be involved in the inflammation and damage to the brain and spinal cord in MS. Rituximab is FDA-approved for the treatment of several conditions including some cancers and rheumatoid arthritis, and it has been used “off-label” to treat several immune-mediated conditions, including MS. Rituximab is given by intravenous (into a vein) infusions every six months. A similar B-cell therapy approach that is manufactured differently, called ocrelizumab, was approved by the FDA in 2017 for the treatment of relapsing MS and primary progressive MS.

The Study: The researchers used data from the Swedish MS Registry and medical records of 494 people from two counties in Sweden who had been recently diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. About 24% had been started on rituximab; other initial therapies included injectable therapies (such as interferons and glatiramer acetate = 43.5%), oral therapies (dimethyl fumarate =17.4% and fingolimod =3.4%), and natalizumab given by IV infusion (24.3%). The key outcome measured was the proportion of people who discontinued specific therapies.

Results: A higher proportion of people given rituximab remained on it, compared to those who received other initial therapies. The reasons for therapy discontinuation differed by type of treatment, but the most common reasons were side effects, disease activity or pregnancy. The authors also reported a trend for increased relapses and brain lesions in participants using treatments other than rituximab.

This study was funded by the Swedish Medical Research Council and others. The report, by Drs. Fredrik Piehl, Mathias Grandqvist and others (Karolinska Institute), was published online January 8, 2018 in JAMA Neurology.

Comment: Understanding which individuals do best on what therapies is important for enabling people with MS to make the best treatment choices. Unlike well-designed clinical trials that have protocols for patient selection and assessment of outcomes, and that randomly assign participants to treatment groups, this observational study was not able to account for factors that determined why any particular therapy was prescribed for any individual, or for all factors that may have triggered an individual or doctor to discontinue a particular therapy. Results of controlled trials – several of which are now underway – are needed to understand the comparative effectiveness of MS therapies.

 

Results Announced from Phase 2 Clinical Trial of Ibudilast Suggest Reduction of Brain Atrophy (Shrinkage) in People with Progressive MS

SUMMARY

  • Top-line results were announced of a phase 2 clinical trial testing an oral anti-inflammatory therapy ibudilast (MN-166, MediciNova, Inc.) in people with progressive forms of MS.
  • The results announced in a press release concluded that ibudilast was well tolerated and significantly slowed the rate of brain atrophy compared to placebo. Brain atrophy (shrinkage) has been linked to cognitive and physical disability in MS.
  • The trial was conducted at the Cleveland Clinic and 27 other sites across the U.S., and involved 255 people with primary or secondary progressive MS.
  • The study was principally funded by NeuroNEXT Network, a clinical trials initiative of the National Institutes of Health, with additional support by MediciNova, the company that supplied ibudilast. The National MS Society also provided funding support.
  • Further details are schedule to be presented Saturday, October 28th at the MSParis2017 – 7th Joint ECTRIMS-ACTRIMS Meeting.
  • These phase 2 results may lead the way to the testing of ibudilast in larger phase 3 trial(s), which would be needed before the company could apply for marketing approval from the FDA, the European Medicines Agency or other regulatory agencies. Ibudilast was designated by the FDA as a “Fast Track Product” which could speed its future development as a possible treatment of progressive MS.

“These results sound like a very promising step toward a potential new therapy for people with progressive forms of MS, for whom there are few treatment options,” said Dr. Bruce Bebo, Executive Vice President, Research, National MS Society.

DETAILS
Background: Ibudilast (MN-166, MediciNova, Inc.) inhibits an enzyme called phosphodiesterase, resulting in suppression of inflammation. While considered a “New Molecular Entity” in the United States and Europe, ibudilast is marketed in Japan and Korea to treat cerebrovascular disorders and asthma. It is being also being investigated in the U.S. for its potential to treat ALS and drug addiction.

The study was principally funded by NeuroNEXT Network, a clinical trials initiative of the National Institutes of Health, with additional support by MediciNova, the company that will supply ibudilast. The National MS Society also provided funding support because of its focus on progressive MS and because the trial’s design may answer important questions about the best ways to measure the benefits of therapies aimed at protecting the nervous system from MS.

The study: The trial, known as “SPRINT-MS,” was led by Principal Investigator Robert Fox, M.D., M.S., FAAN, Staff Neurologist at the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis at Cleveland Clinic. It was conducted at the Cleveland Clinic and 27 other sites across the U.S. The trial involved 255 people with primary or secondary progressive MS. The primary outcome measure was change in brain atrophy (as measured by an MRI analysis technique called brain parenchymal fraction) after 96 weeks.  Brain atrophy (shrinkage) has been linked to cognitive and physical disability in MS. Other imaging, safety, clinical and quality of life outcomes were also measured.

The results announced in a press release from MediciNova concluded that ibudilast was well tolerated and significantly slowed the rate of brain atrophy compared to placebo. Further details are schedule to be presented on Saturday, October 28th at the MSParis2017 – 7th Joint ECTRIMS-ACTRIMS Meeting.

What’s Next? These phase 2 results may lead the way to the testing of ibudilast in larger phase 3 trial(s), which would be needed before the company could apply for marketing approval from the FDA, the European Medicines Agency or other regulatory agencies. Ibudilast was designated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a “Fast Track Product” which could speed its future development as a possible treatment of progressive MS.

 

Interesting Results…

Gene That Boosts Resistance to Malaria linked to Susceptibility to MS and Lupus in Sardinia

Researchers from Italy found a strong association between the gene that instructs the molecule “BAFF” and susceptibility to MS and lupus in studies of nearly 6,000 people in Sardinia. The BAFF gene is crucial to activation of immune B cells and is also associated with resistance to malaria. Malaria was common in Sardinia until it was eradicated in 1950. The rates of MS and certain immune-mediated diseases are high in Sardinia. Further research is necessary to confirm whether this high rate is related to BAFF, and whether MS could be treated by a therapy that targets BAFF.

Read more about this study from the Genetic Literacy Project

Read the scientific summary of the paper in The New England Journal of Medicine

Read more about efforts to end MS forever

 
 

Novel Protein Identified Inside Cells During MS Inflammation May Help Explain Nerve Damage

Researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada report that levels of Rab32 – a protein that directs traffic between cell organs – are increased in sites of active inflammation in brain tissue obtained from people with MS and in mouse models of MS-like disease. This increase was linked to the destruction of nerve cells. If the results are confirmed, this knowledge could explain part of the neurodegenerative process that leads to progression of disability in MS and could be a target for development of effective MS treatments.

Read more on ReliaWire
Read the open access paper in Journal of Neuroinflammation
Read more about Research to stop MS in its tracks

Australian Team Finds Possible Molecular Pathway for MS Progression

Researchers from Australia report that the amount of molecules in a sequence of chemical reactions called the kynurenine pathway differs between people with MS and healthy controls, and between people with relapsing-remitting and progressive forms of MS. The kynurenine pathway is activated by chronic inflammation, and its activation may be involved in nerve damage and MS progression.  The kynurenine pathway has also been implicated in other neurological and psychiatric disorders. The MS-specific findings, and the potential use of the kynurenine pathway in a diagnostic test, will need to be explored in additional studies.

This work was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia. The researchers used several repositories to complete these experiments – the Accelerated Cure Project for MS, The Human Brain and Spinal Fluid Resource Center (which is sponsored by the National MS Society, among others), and the Tasmanian MS Longitudinal Study.

Study Finds That Some Family Members of People with MS Show Possible Early Signs of the Disease without Symptoms

Summary

  • As part of a large-scale “Genes & Environment in MS” (GEMS) study to understand factors that lead to the development of multiple sclerosis, researchers analyzed the genes and backgrounds of individuals who had no symptoms of MS, but who had close family members with MS.
  • Based on that analysis, researchers identified a group of 40 women at higher risk for developing MS, and 25 women at lower risk. Extensive neurological testing and MRI scanning uncovered possible neurological abnormalities in the higher risk group, and MRI abnormalities in a small proportion of both groups.
  • “At this time, we are developing strategies to manage the risk of MS, but there is, as yet, no specific recommendation,” explains co-author Dr. Phillip De Jager. “Family members should be reassured that the vast majority of family members will not develop MS.”
  • The team (including Zongqi Xia, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Daniel S. Reich, MD, PhD, of National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, MD) has published results in JAMA Neurology (published online January 17, 2017).
  • This study was supported by the National MS Society and the National Institutes of Health, and the Society helped to recruit participants. Two of the study authors – Daniel S. Reich, MD, PhD, and Philip L. De Jager, MD, PhD – are winners of the prestigious Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research.

Background: An individual’s risk of developing MS increases if a close family member has MS. There is currently no way to predict which family members will develop MS. The goal of the Genes & Environment in MS (GEMS) study is to identify the genetic, environmental and immune profiles that may increase a person’s risk of developing MS.  Researchers are recruiting 5,000 subjects who have at least one first-degree relative with a diagnosis of MS. The GEMS Study is gathering genetic material (DNA) and environmental exposure history from participants as well as blood samples and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as an option. Investigators are classifying participants using the Genetic and Environmental Risk Score for MS Susceptibility (GERSMS), an experimental approach which incorporates genetic information and environmental exposures to identify people at higher or lower risk of developing MS.

The Study: As part of this large-scale, ongoing study, researchers looked at 65 women who are first-degree relatives of people with MS. The GERSMS indicated that 40 of these women were at higher risk of developing MS, and 25 women were at lower risk of developing MS. These women underwent a comprehensive neurologic examination and MRI scans.

Women in the higher risk group had less than normal vibration sensitivity in their big toes, a finding that indicates potential nerve dysfunction. A small percentage of the women in both groups had more MRI abnormalities associated with MS than one would expect to find in the general population.

The team (Zongqi Xia, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA, and Daniel S. Reich, MD, PhD, of National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, MD) has published results in JAMA Neurology (published online January 17, 2017).

This study was supported by the National MS Society and the National Institutes of Health, and the Society helped to recruit participants. Two of the study authors – Daniel S. Reich, MD, PhD, and Philip L. De Jager, MD, PhD – are winners of the prestigious Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research.

Next Steps:  In this study, women at high risk for MS showed possible early manifestations of the disease. “The goal of the Genes & Environment Study is to understand the sequence of events that leads someone to develop MS,” explains co-author Dr. De Jager. “At this time, we are developing strategies to manage the risk of MS, but there is, as yet, no specific recommendation. Family members should be reassured that the vast majority of family members will not develop MS.” He notes that the study did not test the possibility of preventive strategies, such as vitamin D supplementation.  “Taking vitamin D is good for bone health, and MS family members should discuss taking such supplements with their physician.”

Read more about research to find the genetic and environmental underpinnings of MS

 

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