MS Patient’s Pick of the Week’s News: Lemtrada, Umbilical Stem Cells, Wheat Proteins and Research

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Here is my pick of the week’s news items, as published in Multiple Sclerosis News Today.

Lemtrada Seen to Help Reverse MS Disability in People in Earlier Stages of Disease

A medication that might not just stop but reverse disability of people with relapsing MS? Now, this is something I’d like to see. Mind you, I’d be more impressed if it could do the same for those of us with progressive MS and without the side effects of this medication.

Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) was seen to help reverse disability among patients with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis in relatively early stages of the disease, researchers report.

The study, “Alemtuzumab improves preexisting disability in active relapsing-remitting MS patients,” published in the journal Neurology, supports the idea that treatment with Lemtrada should be considered earlier in disease management, particularly since its benefits seem likely outnumber its side effects.

“While many MS drugs slow the progress of disability, there have been little data about the ability of treatments to help restore function previously lost due to MS,” Gavin Giovannoni, the study’s first author and a professor at the Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London, said in a news release.

“We saw improvements in many of our participants who received alemtuzumab treatment, including their mobility, coordination, bladder function and thinking skills,” he said.

The one problem with Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) is its long list of potential side effects, including death. You can check out this list on the Lemtrada website or at drugs.com.

Umbilical Cord Stem Cells Work to Restore Immune System Balance in Early Study

Now, this is a completely different form of stem cell treatment and must NOT be confused with HSCT. This is about repairing damaged myelin.

Damaging immune system defects seen in patients with multiple sclerosis can be repaired using a simple stem cell approach, according to a new study by researchers in China.

The study, “Umbilical Cord-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Reversed The Suppressive Deficiency Of T Regulatory Cells From Peripheral Blood Of Patients With Multiple Sclerosis In A Co-Culture – A Preliminary Study,” was published in the journal Oncotarget.

In MS patients, immune system cells called T-cells penetrate the brain and react against the myelin coating that protects and supports neurons. Essentially, the T-cells’ activity is unregulated, something usually mediated by T regulatory cells (Tregs), and contributes to their abnormal aggressiveness.

One possible way to restore T-cell regulation is by using mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs (stem cells are immature cells that can become any type of cell in the body). MSCs are a type of stem cell found in the bone marrow, and have been shown to stimulate the presence of Tregs, thereby controlling the activity of T-cells.

The human umbilical cord has stem cells equivalent to MSCs, called UC-MSCs — these cells are more stable, induce lower immune responses, and have higher expansion ability compared to MSCs.

An interesting study; I will be watching for further developments.

Wheat Proteins Known as ATIs May Worsen Inflammation in People with MS

As if the need to be gluten-free isn’t enough, there may soon be a need for some people to be wheat-free, as indicated by the results of this new study.

A group of proteins found in wheat can cause symptoms of such inflammatory health conditions as multiple sclerosis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis to worsen, and may also promote gluten sensitivity, according to researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany.

These findings, recently presented at United European Gastroenterology (UEG) Week 2016, turn attention away from one group of proteins — gluten, associated with digestive problems — to another, known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs).

ATIs compose up to 4 percent of wheat proteins, and are powerful enhancers of immune reactions in the intestine and other organs, such as the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain. These proteins can also exacerbate symptoms of MS, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, lupus, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

“As well as contributing to the development of bowel-related inflammatory conditions, we believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related nonchronic conditions outside of the bowel,” Professor Detlef Schuppan, the lead researcher, said in a news release.

“The type of gut inflammation seen in non-coeliac gluten sensitivity differs from that caused by coeliac disease, and we do not believe that this is triggered by gluten proteins. Instead, we demonstrated that ATIs from wheat, that are also contaminating commercial gluten, activate specific types of immune cells in the gut and other tissues, thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses.”

The one question I have is: Are there any foods that are still considered safe to eat?

National Multiple Sclerosis Society Commits $10.5M to Fund 42 Research Efforts

It is encouraging to see that the American MS society is investing significant amounts of money in new research. It is even more encouraging that it says the investment is part of its commitment to stop MS.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society announced that is investing more than $10.5 million to support an anticipated 42 new research projects into multiple sclerosis, part of its commitment to scientific efforts aimed at stopping MS, restoring lost function to patients, and, ultimately, ending the disease forever.

The dedicated funding is part of a projected society investment of $50 million in 2016 alone, supporting more than 380 studies worldwide.

The newly awarded projects include five studies investigating aspects related to the repair of the nerve-insulating cover (myelin) that is damaged in MS. Others include a study, being carried out at Ohio State University, to explore whether increased levels of physical activity can help reverse cognitive problems; a study at Mt. Sinai, in New York, testing a dietary approach to treat the disease; and two policy studies looking at factors driving the escalating costs of medications to treat MS.

The National MS Society continues to advance promising new therapies by collaborating with researchers to provide the financial support needed to move work toward commercial development. Among these partnerships is a project underway at University College London (UCL) to develop treatments to protect the nervous system from MS-related injury. With society support through its Fast Forward program, UCL researchers have conducted the toxicity studies necessary to bring a new spasticity-relieving molecule, called VSN16R, into clinical testing; the molecule is now being evaluated in a proof-of-concept Phase 2 trial (NCT02542787) to determine if it can improve MS-related spasticity.

“These new research investments are intended to answer questions that will accelerate breakthroughs that change the world for people with MS,” Bruce Bebo, PhD, executive vice president for research with the National MS Society, said in a society news release.

‘Change the world for people with MS’ is a worthy aim and phrase that is almost certain to attract media attention. However, the fact that this investment in new research is only aiming ‘to answer questions that will accelerate breakthroughs’ indicates our world will not be changed anytime soon.

Genome-wide Analysis Pinpoints 200 Gene Variants Common to MS   

Now, I am sure that it is vitally important to scientists working in the field of genetics that 200 genetic loci common to people with MS have been identified. But it means little to those of us who live with the disease

A genome-wide analysis of over 110,000 people allowed researchers with the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium (IMSGC) to discover 200 genetic loci (the position of genes on a chromosome) that are common to people with multiple sclerosis.

The findings were given in the presentation, “200 loci complete the genetic puzzle of multiple sclerosis,” by Dr. Nikolaos A. Patsopoulos, an associate member of the Broad Institute, at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting (ASHG 2016) taking place in Vancouver, Canada, through Oct. 22.

“This is the largest study of this disease worldwide,” Patsopoulos said in a press release. “The large sample size provided the statistical power to pinpoint areas of the genome that are likely to be involved in MS, including less common genetic variants that tend to have a larger effect on disease.”

IMSGC was established in 2003 to bring together researchers — from 30 institutions in 18 countries — dedicated to the study of MS genetics. The consortium combined data from several genome-wide association studies, comprising a total of 47,351 people with MS and 68,284 without this disease.

Through the comparison, the research team identified 200 variants significantly more common among MS patients. The majority of these variants are linked to genes associated with immune system functions and immune cells, including some that may be specific to brain-related functions.

It will be interesting to see if anything significant comes from this.

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 www.50shadesofsun.com. 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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