As per yearly tradition, the 7th joint ECTRIMS/ACTRIMS meeting ended with late-breaking research news. This year, we heard about discoveries related to human brain anatomy, a new biomarker for phase 2 clinical trials and a potential drug for progressive MS.
The trillions of bacteria that call the intestines home collectively make up the gut microbiome. Bacteria in the gut do much more than digest food and break it down into nutrients; they are involved in many biological functions including metabolic processes and regulating aspects of our immune system. Researchers are learning that these tiny creatures are important in the general maintenance of good health and are incredibly sensitive to change. Disruption of gut bacteria has been implicated in a host of health conditions including diabetes, obesity and autoimmune diseases like inflammatory bowel disorder and multiple sclerosis (MS). Studies have shown that certain strains of bacteria are elevated in individuals with MS but not in healthy individuals. We will be hearing more about the role the gut microbiome plays in the development, prevention, and treatment of MS in the coming years.
Already, the gut microbiome was an area of great interest at the #MSParis2017 conference this year. Here are highlights of the research discussed in the talks of Dr. Hartmut Wekerle and Dr. Helen Tremlett.
Comorbidities (when someone is living with more than one condition) are common in MS and can affect people at the onset of their disease, and are even more prevalent in the aging MS population. Evidence presented at the 7th Joint ECTRIMS/ACTRIMS meeting in Paris, France on October 24-28, 2017 by Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie (University of Manitoba) suggests that comorbidities are associated with a negative impact on outcomes including an increase in disability progression, hospitalizations, mortality and a change in response to fatigue management. Aging is associated with certain comorbidities in the general population, and is no different in people living with chronic conditions such as MS. The most common comorbidities for people with MS were diabetes, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) and peripheral vascular disease. In the aging MS population, comorbidities may appear at a time when disability progression is increasing and management of the disease is more challenging.
According to a separate Canadian study, the number of people living with MS over the age of 55 is increasing. It is postulated that this is due to improved quality of life of patients and the availability of more effective treatments for MS.
As people living with MS age, the risk of certain comorbidities increases. The need for multi-disciplinary, patient-centred care for prevention and treatment of comorbidity in people living with MS is critical in the overall management of the disease, especially within the aging MS population.
 Ploughman M, Beaulieu S, Harris C, et al. The Canadian survey of health, lifestyle and ageing with multiple sclerosis: methodology and initial results. BMJ Open 2014;4: e005718. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2014-005718
The McDonald criteria for MS was first established in 2001 by neurologist Ian McDonald and his team of researcher to diagnose individuals with MS with speed and sensitivity. The criteria include guidelines on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) evidence, clinical exams and the use of cerebrospinal fluid (fluid found in the brain and spinal cord, collectively called the central nervous system or CNS) to assist with the diagnosis of MS. Since then, it has undergone three separate revisions; the first took place in 2005, the second in 2010 and most recently, in 2017. The International Panel on Diagnosis of MS revised the 2010 McDonald criteria which was presented at the 7th Joint ECTRIMS/ACTRIMS meeting in Paris, France on October 24-28, 2017. The 2017 revisions were spurred by new data/research since the 2010 revision was released and now allow for an earlier and more efficient diagnosis of MS. The new data has lead to: a better understanding of MS including diagnostic strategies with more sensitivity, greater knowledge of conditions that mimic MS (which can result in misdiagnosis) and revised MRI criteria. The 2017 criteria lessen the risk of misdiagnosis, and most importantly, people can be diagnosed earlier and begin treatment right away.