I mentioned earlier that progressive forms of MS are still without an effective treatment, which has been recognized by the MS scientific community as a major gap that needs to be addressed.
According to Dr. Robert Fox from the Cleveland Clinic, who opened today’s session on progressive MS, there are a number of clinical trials underway showing the therapeutic potential of several treatment. Dr. Fox will be leading one of the trials, which involves evaluating the safety and tolerability of the anti-inflammatory drug ibudilast in people with progressive MS (read about the trial here). Stem cells are also being looked at for their ability to treat progressive as well as relapsing-remitting MS. Amiloride – an oral drug used to treat high blood pressure – has been shown to have nerve-protecting qualities and is now in early trials for progressive MS. Dr. Fox noted that, in the future, there should be increased focus on regenerative treatments for MS that can rebuild the tissues in the central nervous damaged from inflammation.
In an effort to address the growing need for research in progressive MS, Dr. Fox announced at ECTRIMS that several MS Societies from around the world are joining forces in a collaboration that will leverage the necessary resources to speed up the creation of progressive MS therapies. The MS Society of Canada has been a key player in this initiative since the very beginning when there were only a few of us who came together to brainstorm how we would tackle this critical priority in MS research. Today, the Progressive MS Alliance has expanded immensely, engaging the best and brightest researchers around the globe.
I, along with many of my peers here, am hopeful that the work funded by the Alliance will solve the complex puzzle of progressive MS. That is not to say that there isn’t already some excellent research happening in the field right now. Dr. Ciccarelli and her lab from the UK presented interesting data from their study on progressive MS today.
The researchers conducted a non-invasive technique that measures levels of specific molecules in the spinal cord. This technique has previously shown to provide important information about relapsing-remitting disease, but has not been used to observe progressive MS. Dr. Ciccarelli and colleagues looked at the spinal cords of 24 healthy people and 21 people with primary progressive MS. They found that people with primary progressive MS had lower levels of the molecules compared to controls, which reflect myelin degradation and neuron loss. They also found that this outcome was associated with a higher EDSS score – which means greater disability – as well as poor balance and coordination.
A very similar outcome was observed by researchers in Dr. Anthony Traboulsee’s lab at UBC. Dr. Erin MacMillan, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab who we had the opportunity to interview the other day, found a significant decrease in the levels of the same molecules as those observed by Dr. Ciccarelli but in the brain of people with progressive MS. This further demontrates that glutamate and glutamine – the molecules in question for these studies – are very important in understanding progressive MS.