MS Patient’s Pick of the Week’s News: Myelin Repair, Shape Changers, Misdiagnoses, and Virtual Reality
Here is my Pick of the Week’s News, as published in Multiple Sclerosis News Today.
Remyelination could be a new role in MS therapy for a drug that has been used to treat breast cancer for some 40 years.
Tamoxifen (brand name, Nolvadex), a widely used treatment for breast cancer, can also be used to treat myelin loss in patients with multiple sclerosis, a new study suggests.
The finding, by a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge, U.K., was published in a study titled “Tamoxifen accelerates the repair of demyelinated lesions in the central nervous system” in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers used both in vitro cultures and a mouse model with reduced levels of myelin to analyze how six existing drugs might affect the repair and recovery of cells able to produce myelin, called oligodendrocytes.
“We’re very excited about our findings,” said Mark R.N. Kotter, the study’s senior author, in a news release. “What we discovered was that Tamoxifen can enhance myelin repair in MS by encouraging the brain’s own stem cells to regenerate myelin.”
Encouraging news indeed in the fight against MS. We need to halt progression and to repair the damaged myelin.
Not content with shape-changing creatures of science fiction, scientists have discovered that certain molecules in the human body change their shape to prepare to fight foreign agents.
To reach tissues infected with foreign agents, neutrophils, the body’s first line of defense, need to travel through vessel walls — and are known to do so by switching on a class of adhesion receptors, called integrins, that bind to other adhesion molecules at the surface of capillary walls. Now, in a paper published in Nature Communications, researchers revealed an entirely new way through which neutrophils activate their integrins in preparation to cross a vessel wall.
The study, “Neutrophil recruitment limited by high-affinity bent β2 integrin binding ligand in cis,” was developed by researchers at La Jolla Institute (LJI) for Allergy and Immunology, and may lead to the development of new and targeted strategies that either dampen immune responses, as is required in diseases like multiple sclerosis that are associated with chronic inflammation, or boost them in response to foreign pathogens.
“Once neutrophils sense a site of infection behind a capillary wall, they need to get out of circulation fast. Previously, we knew they initiated that by switching on adhesion molecules to grab onto a vessel in less than a second,” Klaus Ley, MD, who led the study and is a professor and head of LJI’s Division of Inflammation Biology, said in a press release. “In our new study we have discovered an unexpected way that these molecules change their shape to do that.”
Isn’t it amazing that, in the 21st century, we are still discovering new things about how human bodies work?
In recent weeks, we have seen reports of doctors being reluctant to make MS diagnoses because of lack of confidence in getting it right; now this shows that some positive diagnoses turn out to be wrong.
Patients with a number of common conditions — some neurological and some autoimmune, but others not — are being mistakenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) because of difficulties in correctly determining this disease and, possibly, pressure to begin treatment early in the disease’s course, according to a recent study published in the journal Neurology.
“Although many rare disorders are known to mimic MS, it appears that presently, a number of common disorders are frequently mistaken for MS,” Andrew Solomon, MD, from the University of Vermont and the study’s lead author, said in a news release.
Several factors likely contribute to this problem, such as the lack of specific disease markers or blood tests to diagnose MS, the combination of different genetic and environmental factors responsible for the development of the disease, and the wide range of symptoms associated with the nerve damage observed in MS patients.
In the study, “The Contemporary Spectrum Of Multiple Sclerosis Misdiagnosis,” Solomon and colleagues — all MS specialists working at four MS academic centers in the U.S. (University of Vermont, Mayo Clinic, Washington University, and Oregon Health & Science University) — pooled data on people they found to be wrongly diagnosed with MS.
It’s bad enough not knowing what your symptoms mean, but even worse when your doctor cannot make the right diagnosis. We deserve better!
Back to science fiction, again, for inspiration? Virtual reality may make it possible to detect neurodegenerative diseases earlier.
Scientists at Russia’s Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) and Siberian State Medical University (SSMU), both in Tomsk, have developed a diagnosis system for neurodegenerative diseases in the early stages. The system uses virtual reality (VR) technology to immerse a subject in a virtual environment during functional tests designed to detect early symptoms of diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and others. The researchers change the virtual environment parameters and record results in the subject’s movements. The technical stage of the joint project is expected to be completed in 2017.
Ivan Tolmachov, senior instructor at the TPU Department of Industrial and Medical Electronics, and an associate professor at SSMU, explained in a press release that several systems, including the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear, determine a person’s position in space and direction of gravity. The muscular system and vision help people to monitor the horizon.
“All these coordinated systems operate automatically. They falter if a person gets neurodegenerative diseases,” Tolmachov said.
It’s really great to see a concept like virtual reality able to be used like this and not just for video games.
Another new discovery, new understandings and, possibly, new treatments.
Japanese scientists have discovered new information about how the myelin sheath is repaired following damage. The research could have major implications for how multiple sclerosis is understood and even treated. The study, “Inactivation of Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase Receptor Type Z by Pleiotrophin Promotes Remyelination through Activation of Differentiation of Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cells,” appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience on Sept 2, 2015.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis are due to an immune attack on the body’s own myelin. When myelin is lost around nerve cells, this can cause unpredictable loss of movement, sensation, vision problems and feelings of pain. Myelin is made by special nervous system cells called oligodendrocytes. Although it is well-known that myelin can be repaired by oligodendrocytes if it is damaged, scientists do not understand the exact repair mechanisms used by these cells. In MS, myelin unfortunately does not appear to be easily repaired, also for unknown reasons.
The researchers, led by Professor Masaharu Noda and colleagues of the National Institute for Basic Biology, wanted to study how myelin is repaired in mice with an experimental form of MS, induced by the myelin-damaging drug cuprizone. They studied both normal mice and genetically altered mice that lacked the protein tyrosine phosphatase receptor type Z (PTPRZ), which is a protein that may cause oligodendrocytes to turn into mature cells, rather than stay in a more immature stage.
Yet again, this could be an exciting step forward in the development of a workable myelin repair therapy. Only time will tell.
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