What's the latest on MS risk factors?

Discovering and understanding MS (multiple sclerosis) causes and risk factors is a hot topic in MS research. Recent studies have uncovered new information on MS risk factors, including:

Strengthening the virus link. Recently, scientists from Italy and the United Kingdom found traces of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the virus that causes mononucleosis, in the damaged brain areas of people who had MS. The virus was found in immune system cells that had worked their way into the brain. This doesn't prove that EBV causes MS, but it adds to the evidence that there could be a link. Previous studies have suggested that EBV could be triggering MS, but there was no evidence that the virus was actually found in the damaged areas of the brain.

It's in the genes. Researchers with the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium have found 2 new gene variations linked to MS. These genes are involved in controlling the immune system cells that attack the brain and spinal cord in people with MS. On the flip side, the same group of researchers also identified a gene that can help protect against MS. This gene helps the immune system tell the difference between the body's own tissues and foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Finding genes linked to MS can eventually lead to new ways of screening for, preventing, and treating MS.

A family matter? We already know that although MS is not inherited directly, children of parents with MS have an increased risk of MS compared to the general population. Previous studies suggested that the risk of a man passing MS on to his children was over twice that of a woman's risk, but new research suggests the risks for men and women to pass on MS to their children are roughly equal.

Butt out! If you needed another reason to quit smoking, a new study shows increased MS risks due to secondhand smoke. The risks were seen in children whose parents smoked, and were greater the longer the children were exposed to secondhand smoke.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-Research-Update-2007

Finding a way to help repair the myelin (the fatty coating that helps insulate nerve fibres so they can send messages in the body) damaged by MS is an area of intense research. Scientists have made a few new discoveries in this area:

Could a vaccine help repair myelin? Studies are underway for a vaccine that helps cells produce myelin basic protein (MBP). MBP is a part of myelin that is damaged in MS. Researchers hope that the vaccine will help stimulate the body to repair myelin in the areas damaged by MS.

Can pregnancy hormones help? Researchers from the University of Calgary have found that prolactin, a pregnancy-related hormone, can help rebuild myelin in mice. Even non-pregnant mice had increases in myelin when they were injected with prolactin. Human studies are needed to better understand the role of prolactin.

Brain, fix thyself. Scientists have found an area of the brain, called the subventricular zone (SVZ), that contains high numbers of stem cells capable of making myelin. People with MS have even higher numbers of stem cells with the potential to make myelin in this area than people without MS. If we can find a way to target this area of the brain to "ramp up" myelin production, this could help repair the damage of MS.

Speaking the LINGO. Researchers have found that LINGO-1, a molecule that's part of myelin, plays a role in blocking the repair of myelin. They are now experimenting with ways to block LINGO-1 as a way of increasing myelin repair. Early studies in mice have shown promising results; human studies are needed.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-Research-Update-2007

Finding ways to protect the nerves and brain from the damage caused by MS is a major area of research. New developments include:

"Reprogramming" the immune system. Much work has been done on finding ways to "reprogram" the immune system for people with MS so it does not attack the brain and nerves. Areas being investigated include:

  • increasing the levels of a type of cell called regulatory T cells, which could improve the immune system's ability to keep tabs on itself, making it less likely to go out of control and attack the nerves and brain
  • finding new ways to block the movement and communication of immune system cells
  • using antibodies (special proteins in the immune system) to temporarily block unwanted immune system activity

Protecting nerve cells. Researchers are looking into a variety of ways to help preserve nerve cells whose myelin has already been damaged, including:

  • using myelin associated glycoprotein (MAG), an ingredient of myelin, to help protect the nerve fibres
  • fixing abnormalities in the sodium channels (tiny holes in the outside of the nerve fibres that are involved in communication) to prevent further damage
  • blocking the actions of nitric oxide, a chemical in the body that is believed to play a role in MS-related nerve damage

Using hormones to protect against MS-related damage. A recent study looked at men with relapsing-remitting MS who had lower-than-average testosterone levels. The men were given the male hormone testosterone. After 12 months of treatment, the men had improvements in a test of processing speed and memory. In their last 9 months of treatment, their rate of brain atrophy (shrinkage) decreased by 67%. A study is also underway in women - this study will examine the effects of the female hormone estriol on MS.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-Research-Update-2007

A better quality of life for people with MS?

Finding ways to make it easier to live with MS is another popular area of research. This research can take many forms, including investigating the effects of existing MS treatments on quality of life, looking for new ways to manage symptoms, and finding ways to help people with MS function better at home and work.

Here is some new research that has been done into quality of life:

Exercise improves quality of life (QoL). Researchers combined the results of 13 studies to look at the overall effect of exercise on QoL, and found that an exercise program can help make a small improvement in QoL for people with MS.

It's time to talk about pain management. Scientists in Edmonton interviewed 41 patients with MS who were living in long-term care facilities and found that even though half of them were in mild-to-moderate pain all the time, less than one-quarter of them were asked to measure their pain. So if you have MS-related pain, don't suffer in silence! Talk to your doctor about pain control.

Motivational interviewing can help resolve job issues. Researchers in Seattle using preliminary data suggest that using a technique called motivational interviewing (a type of counselling that helps people make changes in their lives by exploring and resolving areas where they are caught between two conflicting courses of action) can help people with MS resolve job-related issues and increase the chances of keeping their jobs.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/MS-Research-Update-2007