I intend this blog to be a mixture of my personal experiences with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and news related to MS. Hopefully, I can shed an optimistic light on MS even though it is difficult to be an optimist living with MS.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

From Epstein-Barr to Gilenya Guidelines

News from my latest email from MSF:

Evidence Mounts Regarding Role of Epstein-Barr Virus in MS
New research conducted in the United Kingdom strengthens the hypothesis that the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) plays a role in MS. Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, examined the post-mortem brains of people who had MS and found that even though the virus was latent, it had been sending out chemical signals in the form of RNA.
Those signals caused inflammation and turned on the immune system leading to the symptoms of MS, the researchers reported. Previous research has not successfully shown the connection, but that may be due to the fact that the virus hides in immune system cells when not replicating.
While more studies need to be conducted, researchers are optimistic that learning more will lead to better MS treatments. The anticancer drug Rituximab kills the cells EBV uses to hide and is being used in clinical trials.
“We have to be careful and have to study more MS brains but this is potentially very exciting research. Now we understand how EBV gets smuggled into the brain by cells of the immune system and that it is found at the crime scene, right where the attack on our nervous system occurs. Now we know this, we may have a number of new ways of treating or even preventing the disease,”
the researchers noted.
Reversing Remyelination in Mice
A new study in mice shows that the age-associated decline in the regeneration of the nerve's myelin sheath, or remyelination, is reversible. The study demonstrates that when old mice are exposed to the inflammatory cells (called monocytes) from young mice, the ageing remyelination process can be reversed.
"For individuals with MS, this means that in theory regenerative therapies will work throughout the duration of the disease. Specifically, it means that remyelination therapies do not need to be based on stem cell transplantation since the stem cells already present in the brain and spinal cord can be made to regenerate myelin -- regardless of the patient's age," says Professor Robin Franklin, Director of the MS Society's Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair at the University of Cambridge. Researchers at Harvard University also participated in the study.
The study was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Looking at MS from a Different Perspective
While the current consensus among scientists is that MS is an auto-immune disease, one researcher from New York has proposed a very different theory: that MS may result from problems with the way the body metabolizes lipids, or fats in the blood. This in turn would cause the inflammation and spark a series of damaging events. 
Angelique Corthals, a forensic anthropologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, conducted a lengthy review and analysis of existing research. She notes that MS shares that underlying mechanism with atherosclerosis. (“Sclerosis” refers to hardening or scarring such as the build-up of plaque in arteries and the development of plaques in the brain associated with MS.)
She concludes that viewing MS in this light helps explain many mysteries that the autoimmune model leaves unanswered, including the role genetics play in MS risk, the environmental elements or pathogens that may trigger disease onset, and the reasons MS strikes twice as many women as men. (Atherosclerosis affects men more commonly than women; Carthals suggests gender differences in lipid metabolism may play a big role in determining who gets which condition.)
Because anti-inflammatory drugs such as statins commonly used to fight cardiovascular disease have also been used to treat symptoms of MS, she writes, such drugs may become part of more comprehensive and effective MS treatments than currently exist.
Carthals’ recently presented her theory in The Quarterly Review of Biology.
Vitamin D Levels Linked to Depression
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center psychiatrists working with the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. It is believed to be the largest such investigation ever undertaken.
UT Southwestern researchers examined the results of almost 12,600 participants from late 2006 to late 2010. Dr. Brown and colleagues from The Cooper Institute found that higher vitamin D levels were associated with a significantly decreased risk of current depression, particularly among people with a prior history of depression.
Low vitamin D levels were associated with depressive symptoms, particularly those with a history of depression, so primary care patients with a history of depression may be an important target for assessing vitamin D levels. The study did not address whether increasing vitamin D levels reduced depressive symptoms.
The scientists have not determined the exact relationship -- whether low vitamin D contributes to symptoms of depression, whether depression itself contributes to lower vitamin D levels, or chemically how that happens. But vitamin D may affect neurotransmitters, inflammatory markers and other factors, which could help explain the relationship with depression, said Dr. E. Sherwood Brown, who leads the psychoneuroendocrine research program at UT Southwestern.
"Our findings suggest that screening for vitamin D levels in depressed patients -- and perhaps screening for depression in people with low vitamin D levels -- might be useful," said Dr. Brown, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study, done in conjunction with The Cooper Institute in Dallas. "But we don't have enough information yet to recommend going out and taking supplements."

European Medicines Agency Strengthens Gilenya Guidelines While Review Underway
The European Medicines Agency, the agency responsible for the scientific evaluation of medicines for use in the European Union, has undertaken a review of Gilenya following cases of serious cardiac events and death in people who had recently started the medicine. As yet, there is not enough information to determine if Gilenya was the cause of these cases, which is why a review is underway. During the review, the agency has strengthened its recommendations for monitoring patients who receive the drug.
The new guidelines are as follows:
Before starting treatment with Gilenya, all patients should have their heart checked by ECG, a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart.
After receiving the first dose of Gilenya, all patients should have their heart function continuously monitored by ECG for six hours.
All patients should also have their blood pressure and heart rate checked every hour for six hours after the first dose.
If patients develop any clinically relevant heart problem (such as bradycardia or atrioventricular block), doctors are advised to consider extending the monitoring period until it is resolved.
These guidelines apply only within the European Union. FDA guidelines within the U.S. remain unchanged. Those being treated or planning to begin treatment who have questions can call Novartis, the drug's manufacturer, at 1-888-NOW-NOVA.
As always, new and exciting research is ongoing!  The most interesting thing here, in my opinion, is looking at MS from a new perspective.  The most exciting thing here is that remyelination is possible!  Hope all is well!

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