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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

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Prevalence of MS More Than Doubles Estimate

A new study funded by the National MS Society has confirmed that nearly one million people are living with MS in the United States, more than twice the original estimate from a previous study. This breakthrough is a pivotal moment in the MS movement as a scientifically sound measure of prevalence helps us better understand the disease and its impact. With twice as many people living with MS, solutions for MS are now twice as important.

In addition to the main paper outlining these results, two companion papers providing background information on prevalence in the U.S. and reviewing the study methods were also published in the February 15, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Q: What is prevalence and how is it different from incidence?
A: Prevalence is the number of people living with a disease. Incidence is the number of people newly diagnosed with a disease within a given period of time.

Q: How many people are living with MS in the U.S. according to the new prevalence estimate?
A: Nearly 1 million people (913,925)

Q: How is the new estimate different than numbers used before?
A: More than twice as many people are living with MS than was previously thought.

Q: Where did the earlier MS prevalence number of 400,000 come from?
A: The previous figure of 400,000 was an estimate calculated from population growth since the national study of MS prevalence that was published in 1981.

  1. How did the prevalence number jump from 400,000 to 913,925?
    A. As part of a Society-funded study, researchers developed a novel method for estimating the number of people who are living with MS using large medical claims datasets. This method has produced a higher, and likely more accurate, count.

Q: Why is this information important? And what does it mean for people affected by MS and the work of the National MS Society?
A: Having this scientifically sound prevalence estimate will facilitate a better understanding of the needs of people with MS and the economic burdens imposed by the disease on families and society. It will be a starting point for researchers to understand if MS is increasing, or if there are MS geographic clusters that hold clues to factors that trigger MS. These data will also help ensure that the National MS Society is able to connect to and support all people affected by MS.

Q: Does this mean more people are getting MS than before?
A. We don’t know. Since solid information on the number of people being diagnosed with MS has not been available, it has been difficult to tell whether more people are getting MS or if the total number is just a reflection of overall population growth, better diagnostic procedures, the availability of disease modifying drugs, or other changes in the MS landscape. Going forward, this should become easier. Outside of the U.S., some studies have reported increases in the incidence of MS. More work is needed to understand all the factors that led to this increase.

Q: What was the process to reach this new number and why has it taken so long to get an updated prevalence number of people living with MS in the U.S.?
A: After an examination of what it would take to identify a scientifically sound estimate, the Society funded the work and established a work group of experts across the fields of epidemiology, statistics and health care. This group labored for nearly four years to develop and implement a plan for estimating prevalence as rigorously as possible given the sources of information available. They obtained the proper mix of administrative datasets, developed and validated a formula to identify people with MS then applied it, and the findings were published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Q: Will this change the global number?
A: Yes, this will change the global number (which is most recently estimated at 2.3 million). The global number is calculated through input from MS societies across the globe to the MS International Federation. The MS International Federation is planning to do an update of the “MS Atlas” and when complete, the global number is likely to increase not just from the new U.S. estimate but from other nations as well.

Q: How confident are we in this number?
A: A team of experts led a thorough study based on a sound, scientific process and followed the peer-review process to affirm these results. We have trust and confidence in the approach and methodology that produced these results. In addition, the figures for the US are as high or higher than figures found in other countries using a variety of different methods to calculate the number.

Q: Will this new prevalence estimate help us get to a cure for MS faster?
A: Research breakthroughs related to what causes MS and how to cure it are happening at a faster pace than ever before. Having sound information on how many people are living with MS and who gets MS is an important pathway to a cure.

Q: When and how will the prevalence number be updated again?
A: The National Neurological Conditions Surveillance System, which was authorized in 2016 through the 21st Century Cures Act, has been funded and will be able to update prevalence estimates on a regular basis. This is a culmination of more than a decade of work by MS activists and others across the neurologic community. This system will provide important demographic data to help researchers move more quickly toward cures for the millions of people who live with diseases like MS and Parkinson’s.

Q: Why do we only have an estimate of the number of people with MS, versus knowing the exact figure?
A: Unlike for certain infectious disorders, there is no requirement for healthcare providers to report to health authorities when a person is diagnosed with MS. Although a nearly exact count could be made by contacting doctors, hospitals, and other health care facilities, such a study would be prohibitively expensive and almost impossible to implement.

Novel Molecule May be Used to Track and Treat MS

Scientists at Purdue used a novel approach to show that a molecule called acrolein is elevated in blood and urine from mice with MS-like disease and from people with MS, compared to those without the disease. Acrolein is normally a waste product, but seems to accumulate in people with neurologic disease, becoming toxic to nerve cells. They are now testing whether acrolein levels correlate with disease activity, to determine if this molecule may eventually be used to identify MS with a simple blood test. Medications targeting acrolein are already on the market, raising its potential as a therapeutic target for MS.

 

Read more in Purdue University News

Read the paper in Frontiers in Neurology

 

New MS Research

Research on immune activity in MS

Understanding and stopping MS in its tracks requires a better understanding of the role that the immune system plays in this disease. This system is involved both in the inflammatory attacks on myelin and, very possibly, in the injury to axons (the wire-like nerve fibers) that contributes to longer-term disability. Research on the immune system includes studies on:

  • Understanding components of the immune system such as T cells, B cells, and antibodies
  • Identifying new targets for therapeutic intervention while leaving the rest of the immune system capable of fighting infections
  • Identifying substances and processes involved in the injury of axons
  • Identifying the body’s natural immune messenger molecules that can either turn on or turn off immune attacks

Significant progress is being made in understanding the immune system’s involvement in MS, which will help drive breakthrough solutions to change the world for everyone with MS.

We’re making progress

Studies of the immune system in MS laid the groundwork for every disease-modifying therapy now available, and these studies continue to hold promise for finding ways to stop MS. Here are reports of recent progress:

Researchers co-funded by the National MS Society report study results indicating that “Tregs” – regulatory immune cells that are known to be dysfunctional in people with MS – play a role in promoting formation of new myelin following damage. If the results are confirmed through further research, these basic laboratory studies could eventually be translated to promising new therapeutic approaches to stimulating myelin repair to restore function in people with MS. Read more

Treatment with ATX-MS-1467 (Apitope) – an injected immune therapy whose early development was supported by the National MS Society through Fast Forward, the Society’s commercial research funding program – was reported to reduce disease activity on MRI scans in two small open-label studies involving people with relapsing MS. This is an approach to identify pieces of human proteins, called “peptides,” that might be able to reinstate “immune tolerance” – in effect, train immune cells to ignore myelin – to suppress MS attacks. Read more

Scientists at the University of Florida, funded in part by the National MS Society, took a novel approach to turn off immune attacks in mice with an MS-like disease. The team used a harmless virus to deliver a gene coding for a specific component of myelin, a key target of immune attacks in MS. Further research is needed to verify and refine this approach before it can be tested in people. Read more

Results Published from Trial of Siponimod in Secondary Progressive MS

  • Results of a 60-month, phase III clinical trial of the experimental oral therapy siponimod (BAF312, Novartis Pharmaceuticals AG) involving 1,651 people with secondary progressive MS have been published. The results were originally presented in September 2016 at the ECTRIMS conference.
  • The trial met its primary endpoint of reducing the risk of disability progression compared with inactive placebo. Those on active treatment had a 21% reduced risk of disability progression compared to those on placebo. Secondary endpoints suggested that those on active therapy had 23% lower average change in brain volume and reduced lesion volume. There was no significant difference seen between groups in the timed 25-foot walk.
  • The therapy was generally well tolerated and similar to adverse events reported for similar compounds. The serious adverse events reported to be more likely for those taking siponimod included nervous system disorders and infections.
  • Dr. Ludwig Kappos (University of Basel in Switzerland) and a large team of investigators report detailed results of the trial in The Lancet (online March 22, 2018). A commentary about the results by Drs. Luanne Metz and Wei-Qiau Liu (University of Calgary) is also published online.

DETAILS
Background: Siponimod (BAF312) is an experimental immune system-modulating therapy that was designed to be a more selective sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor modulator than Gilenya® (fingolimod, Novartis International AG). Gilenya, was approved in 2010 for adults with relapsing forms of MS to reduce the frequency of clinical relapses and to delay the accumulation of physical disability. Siponimod previously demonstrated safety and efficacy on MRI scans in a phase II study in people with relapsing-remitting MS (The Lancet Neurology, 2013 Aug;12(8):756-67).

Siponimod is thought to act by retaining certain white blood cells in the body’s lymph nodes, keeping them out of circulation and from entering the central nervous system. Siponimod also distributes effectively to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) where it may have direct anti-inflammatory or other effects.

The Study: Participants with secondary progressive MS were randomly assigned to take siponimod or placebo capsules daily for up to 60 months. The primary endpoint of the study was reducing the risk of disability progression, as measured by the EDSS scale that was sustained for at least 3 months. Secondary endpoints included reducing the risk of disability progression as measured by the EDSS at six months, the risk of worsening mobility as measured by the timed 25-foot walk test, disease activity as observed on MRI scans, relapse rate, and safety/tolerability.

Results: The results were originally presented in September 2016 at the ECTRIMS conference. The trial met its primary endpoint of reducing the risk of disability progression compared with inactive placebo. Those on active treatment had a 21% reduced risk of disability progression (confirmed at 3 months) compared to those on placebo. Secondary endpoints suggested that those on active therapy had a 23% lower average change in brain volume, and reduced MRI-detected brain lesion volume. There was no significant difference seen between groups in the timed 25-foot walk. Relapse rates were significantly lower in those taking siponimod.

Safety: The therapy was generally well tolerated and similar to adverse events reported for related compounds. Serious adverse events occurred in 16.7% of participants. The serious adverse events reported to be more likely for those taking siponimod included nervous system disorders and infections. More of those taking siponimod than the placebo experienced adverse events (89% vs 82% patients), such as a slower heart rate, high blood pressure, reduced white blood cell counts, macular oedema (swelling at the back of the eye), increased liver enzymes, and increased numbers of convulsions.

Dr. Ludwig Kappos (University of Basel in Switzerland) and a large team of investigators report detailed results of the trial in The Lancet (online March 22, 2018). A commentary about the results by Drs. Luanne Metz and Wei-Qiau Liu (University of Calgary) is also published online.

Comment: “While the magnitude of this response is somewhat modest, it represents a milestone in our unrelenting search for treatments that will benefit people living with progressive forms of MS,” said Bruce Bebo, PhD, Executive Vice President of Research at the National MS Society.

Resources
Read about secondary progressive MS
Read about the International Progressive MS Alliance, an unprecedented global collaboration of MS organizations, researchers, clinicians, pharmaceutical companies, and people with progressive MS, transforming the landscape of multiple sclerosis.

 

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.

Best MS Books (29 books)

29 books based on 16 votes: Break The Spell by A.M. Bostwick, Mom’s Story, A Child Learns About MS by Mary Jo Nickum, Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions Y…
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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.

 

Study Questions Influence of High-Salt Diet on MS

SUMMARY

  • Some recent studies have suggested that high intake of salt in the diet might influence MS disease activity and progression, but other studies have not confirmed that link.
  • In work partly funded by the National MS Society, researchers took advantage of data accumulated from a previous clinical trial involving 465 people with possible early signs of MS (CIS) whose salt levels in urine were measured over the course of 5 years.
  • They found no connection between salt intake and MS activity.
  • The study, “Sodium Intake and Multiple Sclerosis Activity and Progression in BENEFIT,” was published in the July 2017 issue of the Annals of Neurology (2017;82:20-29).
  • Although this study does not support a link between high-salt diets and MS disease activity, research suggests that most Americans eat more salt than is recommended by federal guidelines. Reducing dietary salt is considered by most to be beneficial to the heart and circulatory system.

DETAILS
Background: Several recent studies have suggested that dietary salt (sodium chloride) could potentially influence MS disease activity and progression. For example, one study of 70 people with relapsing-remitting MS, who were followed for two years, found that higher levels of salt measured in urine samples were associated with a higher rate of relapses and larger brain MRI lesions. In addition, mice fed a high-salt diet developed a more aggressive course of EAE, a laboratory model of MS. But two studies in pediatric MS did not find a relationship between self-reported salt intake and MS risk or relapse rates. Resolving this question is important because it offers the possibility that reducing salt intake might improve a person’s overall health and their course of MS.

This Study: In work partly funded by the National MS Society, researchers set out to determine if a high-salt diet is associated with faster conversion from a first neurologic episode (known as clinically isolated syndrome or CIS) to a diagnosis of definite multiple sclerosis, or with MS disease activity. Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, ScD (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine), Alberto Ascherio, MD, DrPH (Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health) and colleagues took advantage of data accumulated from a previous clinical trial involving 465 participants who participated in a trial called BENEFIT (Betaferon/Betaseron in Newly Emerging Multiple Sclerosis for Initial Treatment) over 5 years. The trial compared benefits of giving interferon to individuals with CIS early versus later. Each person provided an average of 14 urine samples throughout the five-year follow-up. The researchers estimated average long-term sodium intake from the multiple urine samples, adjusting for age, sex, height, weight, where participants lived, and many other variables.

Results: Researchers found that neither average nor high urine sodium levels were associated with conversion to definite MS. They also weren’t associated with new MRI lesions at any point in the five years, relapse rates, or progression of disability. These results suggest that high sodium intake does not play a major role in influencing MS disease course or activity in people treated with interferon, at least in the early stages of the disease.

While the study has several strengths, including its length, large sample size, and systematic collection of data, it has limitations: BENEFIT participants were treated nearly uniformly with interferon, and the results may not apply to people on other therapies or no therapy. In addition, participants in the BENEFIT trial were primarily Caucasian and resided in Europe and Canada, and it isn’t known if similar results would apply to other populations and ethnicities. The results also don’t answer the question of whether salt intake affects the risk of developing MS in the first place.

The study, “Sodium Intake and Multiple Sclerosis Activity and Progression in BENEFIT,” was published in the July 2017 issue of the Annals of Neurology (2017;82:20-29).

Comment: Although this study does not support a link between high-salt intake and MS disease activity, research suggests that most Americans eat more salt than is recommended by federal guidelines. Even in the absence of direct evidence that MS immune activity is influenced by salt, reducing dietary salt is considered by most to be beneficial to the heart and circulatory system.

Read More: Diet, along with exercise, cognitive health, and other healthy behaviors can make a big difference to how you feel as you deal with MS. Learn more about living well with MS

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