MS Patient’s Pick of the Week’s News: Umbilical Cells, Early Drugs, REAL Research, Hemoglobin, and Fatigue

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Pick of the Week's News


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Here’s my Pick of the Week’s News, as published by Multiple Sclerosis News Today.

Umbilical Cord Blood-derived Cell Therapy Promotes Remyelination in Mice

Now this is different, using umbilical cord stem cells.

A cell therapy product derived from human umbilical cord blood cells may be a promising treatment approach for patients with demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis or leukodystrophy, according to a recent study developed at the Duke University Medical Center.

The study, “A cord blood monocyte–derived cell therapy product accelerates brain remyelination,” published in JCI Insight, shows that a cell product with characteristics of macrophages and microglia, the primary immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS), accelerated remyelination in mice subjected to toxic demyelination.

Microglia can exert a dual role in CNS injuries, participating in both their propagation and resolution, by modulating neuroinflammation, producing factors that regulate CNS cells, and clearing debris to provide an environment for oligondendrocytes (the myelin-producing cells) to remyelinate neurons.

Still a long way to go before any possible therapy is developed, but it’s a promising start.

MS Progression Slower in People Who Begin Betaseron Therapy at First Signs of Disease, 11-Year Study Says

Treating people as soon as symptoms appear makes good sense — if those symptoms are recognized.

Relapsing multiple sclerosis patients who begin taking Betaferon/Betaseron (interferon beta-1b) immediately after the first MS-related neurologic symptoms appear may realize slower disease progression than those who delay treatment, according to a study evaluating the therapy’s effects over a decade in patients enrolled in a Phase 3 clinical trial.

The study, “The 11-year long-term follow-up study from the randomized BENEFIT CIS trial,” published in the journal Neurology, found that patients put on Betaferon/Betaseron early in their disease course went without a first relapse for longer time periods and had lower annualized relapse rates. (The interferon beta-1b treatment produced by Bayer is known as Betaferon in Europe; in the U.S., it is marked as Betaseron.)

MS often starts after an acute or subacute episode of neurologic dysfunction known as clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). Over time, as lesions accumulate, up to 85 percent of people diagnosed with CIS will develop MS.

It took 26 years (and many doctors) from the time my first symptoms appeared to my diagnosis. This may have helped.

Patient-led Study, REAL MS, Invites Adults to Help Advance and Direct MS Research

Here’s a chance to get yourself involved in some real research (sorry, pun intended).

An innovation in multiple sclerosis research has been launched by the iConquerMS initiative — a longitudinal, prospective study called “REAL MS,” an acronym for “Research Engagement About Life with Multiple Sclerosis,” with a goal of accelerating research into personalized treatments for MS patients.

This type of study collects repeat observations of the same variables, over long periods, from MS patients divided into “cohorts,” or groups with shared characteristics. Patients who agree to take part answer questions about their particular experiences, so that differences across populations can be identified, and about factors affecting their MS progression and treatment outcomes. Biosamples, crucial to data collection and analysis, may also be requested.

Importantly, iConquerMS — an initiative of the Accelerated Cure Project for MS, a research and advocacy non-profit group based in Massachusetts — is designed to empower anyone living with MS to participate in research and, unlike other data-gathering programs, is led by a governing board with a majority of MS patients as members, as are a number of committees.

Genuine (pun avoided) patient-led research is just what we need.

Hemoglobin Variant A2 May Protect MS Patients Against Neural Injury

OK, I have to admit that this one has me scratching my head because, although I am sure it must be worthy and important, I just don’t understand it.

Multiple sclerosis seems to be less severe in people with higher levels of the minor adult hemoglobin variant A2 (HbA2) in their blood, possibly because this variant works to protect and stabilize the membrane of red blood cells, according to researchers in Turkey.

The scientists speculate that HbA2 could play a role in reducing long-term neural injury in MS.

The findings were described in the study, “Higher minor hemoglobin A2 levels in multiple sclerosis patients correlate with lesser disease severity,” published in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.

Red blood cell fragility, or the tendency of red blood cells to rupture under physical or chemical stress, is a well-established problem for people with MS. It is thought this increased fragility results in free-circulating hemoglobin (Hb) in the blood. Research has shown that free Hb disrupts the blood-brain barriers and causes iron deposition, lipid peroxidation, and perivascular inflammation, all contributing to the neurodegeneration that characterizes MS.

I sure hope it clicks with you.

Can Diet Ease MS Fatigue? Clinical Trial, Now Recruiting, Wants to Find Out

This trial is all about the possibility of using a diet to ease fatigue. It is not about MS itself.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society  announced that it has dedicated more than $1 million to support a clinical study at the University of Iowa that will compare two types of diet and their effectiveness in easing fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis.

“The National MS Society is committed to identifying wellness solutions to help people live their best lives,” Bruce Bebo, PhD, the Society’s executive vice president, Research, said in a press release.  “We’re very pleased to support a rigorous clinical trial to test the ability of two popular MS dietary approaches to address the disabling symptom of fatigue.”

Numerous studies have looked at dietary approaches to treating disease symptoms, but the protocols of many for MS were not sufficiently rigorous to provide suitable evidence for treatment recommendations.  The new trial was carefully designed to understand the impact of diet on MS-related fatigue and other symptoms experienced by people with the disease.

The 36-week trial will enroll 100 patients with a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) and symptoms of fatigue.  Patients will be asked to follow their normal diet for 12 weeks, after which they will be randomized to either the Swank diet, which is low in saturated fats, or the Wahls diet, a modified Paleolithic diet, for a 24-week period. Patients’ health and activities will be closely monitored throughout the trial.

There is much controversy about various diets both in the terms of MS and in the wider world. Any light that could be shone on the benefits, or otherwise, of any particular diet would be most welcome.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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Ian Franks is Managing Editor of the Columns division of BioNews Services. He has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media; during which he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain and uses his skills to write his own flourishing specialist MS, Health & Disability blog at Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.
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