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New Research + Clinical Trials for MS Patients

Mother and daughterMultiple sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune condition where the body mistakenly attacks the covering of nerves, which affects the central nervous system.  Symptoms may be mild, but at its worst, multiple sclerosis can negatively impact a person’s ability to walk, talk, see and eat.  While there is currently no cure, there are many therapeutic avenues available to doctors and their patients.

Are there any research studies for better medications for multiple sclerosis?

Yes, there are plenty of both, as multiple sclerosis affects millions worldwide and draws massive attention from the research community.  This research tends to focus on improving current therapies, introducing newer and better therapies, or continuing the search for a cure – the National MS Society funds grants, evaluates research via peer review panels and promotes collaborative research.

Scientists are interested in finding out as much as possible about the mechanisms of this condition, so that they may best improve patient care and comfort.  The NIH offers a fantastic comprehensive review of all things MS, including research trends and the latest news.  The foci of current studies are quite broad – some are trying to understand how the disease works, and other are looking for new or improved treatments.

Some recent research has centered on decreasing the inflammatory response and/or suppressing the immune system response (immunotherapy) to combat disease progression.  Additional efforts are exploring the possibility of using stem cells to repair the central nervous system and develop new approaches to treatment.

One recent development has been the advent of oral medications for multiple sclerosis (typically, treatments are available via injections).  One medication, fingolimod, was recently approved by the FDA for use in the U.S.; another (cladribine) is under consideration at this time, according to Medscape.  The FDA also approved a third agent, teriflunomide, a once-a-day tablet, in September 2012.  This is obviously a huge advance in terms of ease of administration and patient compliance, and has researchers, clinicians and patients alike excited about such prospects.

How do I find out about clinical trials that I might participate in?

Without clinical trials, much of this research wouldn’t be possible, as therapies must eventually be tested on human beings to be approved for use by the public.  Accordingly, there are almost always studies being conducted that are looking for participants.  There are several excellent resources online that serve as national clearinghouses for past, current and future research opportunities:

Also, contacting major academic medical centers near your home or through your neurologist will often yield additional information on potential participation, as well as recent results of clinical trials.

If doctors think current treatments are effective for multiple sclerosis, what criteria is used to determine that?

For MS, doctors may use some of the same tools (lab studies, MRI, other imaging studies) to assess how well treatments are working for you.  A good functional medicine overview of a MS assessment includes diet and other lifestyle evaluation factors, in addition to the tools noted above.  Your doctor may also evaluate your response compared to the typical response seen in studies of patients in similar stages of multiple sclerosis and who are using the same treatments.  This paper on MS current treatment algorithm summarizes different MS conditions stages, the treatments used and the average expected response, as seen in studies conducted between 1993-2010.

Questions for your doctor or specialist:

  • What are the latest developments in MS research?  Do any apply to potential therapies for me?
  • Are you or any of your colleagues personally involved in studies?
  • Do you recommend I search for clinical trial openings?  Why or why not?
  • If I don’t qualify for any ongoing or planned studies, what else can I do to improve treatment outcomes?  Different meds, alternative therapies, etc.?
  • If I’m currently on parenteral (non-oral) medications, am I a candidate for any of the new oral drugs now on the market?  If not, why?

 

About the Author
Dr. Rothbard is a professional medical writer and consultant based in New York City, specializing in medical education articles targeted at a variety of audiences, from children through clinicians.  After leaving medicine, he worked as a biology and medical science educator for several years, before deciding to pursue writing full-time.  He may be reached at [email protected].

 

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