This is an exciting time for multiple sclerosis (MS) research. New technologies and insights are speeding the pace of discovery. In fact, there are more MS treatments in development now than ever before.
MS is a neurological disease that can cause extreme tiredness, vision changes, trouble moving, and other problems. Scientists are looking for ways to:
- Stop the disease from getting worse
- Restore lost function
- Prevent and cure MS
Besides testing new treatments, scientists continue to explore the root causes of MS. Much of the research is still being done in animals, but recent findings and ongoing research include:
- Bone marrow stem cell transplants that would offer long-term benefits
- An epilepsy pill that slowed nerve damage
- A specific type of training that improved memory and brain activity (as seen on MRI scans). Changes were still in place after 6 months.
- An experimental therapy in mice helped their bodies make myelin, a substance that protects nerves. The treatment is a type of microRNA, a small amount of genetic material.
- A large team of researchers is analyzing gut bacteria to find out what role it may play as MS gets worse.
- Researchers are studying children with MS to learn how their environment and genes make them more likely to get the disease. One early finding suggested low vitamin D levels were linked to MS relapses in kids with a specific gene.
Stem Cell Transplants
These are the only cells in your body with the power to create new types of cells. For example, your blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle, and bone all come from stem cells.
People who need new, healthy cells to fight a disease like cancer often get bone marrow stem cell transplants. This procedure can help rebuild your immune system by producing new blood cells. You might hear your doctor call it:
- Stem cell transplant
- Bone marrow transplant
- HSCT (hematopoietic stem cell transplantation)
How does it work? Doctors remove and store cells from your body that make blood. Then, you take chemotherapy drugs to wipe out your immune system. After that, your stem cells go back in your body. They travel to your bone marrow, where they make new blood cells, giving your immune system a fresh start.
Studies show that bone marrow stem cell transplants might help some people with MS. However, the treatment is still experimental.
Nanomedicine for MS
This is a kind of nanotechnology -- the study of special particles that are much smaller than your naked eye can see. Nanoparticles could lead to major breakthroughs in treating and diagnosing diseases, including MS.
Treatment. In some cases, nanoparticles act as tiny cargo ships that carry medicine -- sometimes, to parts of the body drugs can’t reach on their own. For example, they can cross the blood-brain barrier, a layer of cells that protect your brain from possible danger -- but that also keep helpful MS drugs from getting through.
Attaching MS drugs to nanoparticles may solve this problem. That’s because certain nanoparticles can interact with blood-brain barrier cells and get “swallowed” by them. When the nanoparticle gets in, so does the drug it carries.
Another type of nanoparticle doesn’t even need to carry medicine. The material itself is a powerful antioxidant that crosses the blood-brain barrier. It’s called a cerium oxide nanoparticle, and it helped relieve some MS symptoms in mice.
Diagnosis. Nanoparticles can improve imaging tests. That helps doctors get a clearer picture of what’s happening inside your body. For example, a doctor can inject them into your body, so they can “light up” tiny areas of your brain on MRI scans. This helps her spot MS activity and damage earlier in the disease and makes it easier to keep tabs on treatments as you go along.
Nanomedicine research is still in the early stages. Most studies on its potential for MS are in animals. But there’s a real need and demand for new ways to attack MS, and nanomedicine is likely to play a role.