Updates on Multiple Sclerosis care from Andy Beardslee PT, DPT, MSCS
As a Multiple Sclerosis Certified Specialist and board member of the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Healthcare Provider Council, I have the opportunity to stay updated on the latest news regarding research and treatments for multiple sclerosis. I would like to share a brief description of Multiple Sclerosis, and the latest research being shared among health care providers who specialize in this area.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disease where damage to the central nervous system causes varied symptoms throughout the body. Nerves in the brain and spinal cord gradually degrade, causing sensory disturbances, pain, weakness, imbalance or fatigue. There is no proven cause, and no proven cure.
Ongoing research has shed some light on potential causes for MS, and likewise potential treatment options. MS is an auto-immune disease, so that means the body is attacking itself due to having been exposed to an environmental trigger. It is thought that the person must have a genetic code which makes it more likely that their immune system will react in this way. For years, MS researchers have sought answers as to what genes might make one susceptible, and what environmental triggers might produce the auto-immune response of MS.
At the Clinical Care Forum for Ohio Chapter of Multiple Sclerosis Society in September, Dr. Mitchell Wallin presented a compilation of the results of the latest research. He shared that several genes have been identified which are common among people with MS. This is an important step to narrow down a more thorough understanding of why some people develop MS and some do not even when exposed to the same environmental factors.
With regards to what environmental factors might trigger an MS response, Dr. Wallin shared that there are recent studies which indicate evidence that a virus might be responsible for triggering the disease. However, ongoing research is being conducted to prove this theory and identify the virus. Other factors being zeroed in on, such as vitamin deficiency, pollutants, side effects of medications, chemical exposures, but again more research is needed to determine what combination of factors need to coincide to prompt onset of MS.
Additionally, I’d like to comment on recent research presented through the International Journal of MS Care, the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Care bi-monthly publication. In an article titled “Perspectives About Time Frames in Stem Cell Research for Multiple Sclerosis” it is discussed that the general public and patients with MS may not have accurate understanding of the current availability and effectiveness of stem cell treatment for MS. The article found that some elements of stem cell therapy need clarification to the public and to health care providers.
One point to clarify is that there is thought to exist great potential for stem cell therapy for MS to slow or cease the progression and/or to potentially reverse the neurological damage done. HOWEVER, stem cell treatment has not yet been proven to do those things, and treatment is not yet approved by the FDA for multiple sclerosis. Occasional media reports of stem cell treatment have been misconstrued and the general public has an incorrect idea of the availability of stem cell therapy. There are some “clinical trials” that patients can pay to take part in, usually outside the United States, which are not advisable at this time. This is known as stem cell tourism, and may put the patient at risk of being taken advantage of or even harmed.
The current time frame expected to reach FDA approved standardized stem cell treatment for multiple sclerosis suggested in the article is a wide window – between 5-25 years from now. While this may sound like a frustrating window to consider, it is the realistic time frame given how time-consuming it is to conduct valid research on treatment which has proven results and lack of negative side effects.
It is important to have correct understanding of current research regarding the cause and treatments for multiple sclerosis. This allows us (patients and care providers) to be both optimistic and realistic. Keep up with the latest research to gain informed hope!
Written by: Dr. Andrew Beardslee PT, DPT, MSCS