Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the first FDA-approved therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS) only came out in 1993. When Betaseron first became available it marked the turning point for those with MS. No longer would they be given their diagnosis and sent on their way to suffer whatever course the disease would decide to take.
Patients would finally be empowered with the choice to take a treatment, giving them a way to fight back.
Now, some twenty years later, there are an additional nine other FDA-approved treatments in a neurologist’s arsenal providing patients powerful choices for managing their disease. If they fail on one, or can’t endure the side effects, there is hope that another might help. Three of those recent additions are oral medications, allowing the needle-phobic patients among the MS population to finally breath a deep sigh of relief as all the others are injectables. Besides the currently approved therapies for MS, there are several others still in trials.
The more advances that are made, the more powerful the treatments, enabling some MS patients to remain free from relapses for years at a time. Research isn’t stopping there, though. Scientists continue to look for a cure, and on the way to finding one, they are also on the path to repairing damage. While patients are busy trying to stave off disease progression or halt relapses using the disease modifying therapies (DMTs), researchers are busily working on options that will do so much more one day.
They know it’s not enough to slow or stop disease activity. The damage to myelin has been done. The scarring has occurred, and, even if the relapses cease, or progression has stopped, the disability remains.
So the new focus has become myelin repair. This is the holy grail of MS research. If scientists can not only stop the disease, but undo the damage caused to the brain and spinal cord, there is hope that one day disability can be reversed.
For those with MS, to once again walk, or no longer feel numb, or have their vision restored is almost impossible to imagine.
But that may one day be a reality. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) funds research into all types studies on MS, many of them focusing on myelin repair.
One such study in Italy published encouraging results on October 31, 2013. They found that using stem cells derived from skin tissue actually reduced the damage done to the nervous system in mice suffering from a disease similar to MS.
If human studies are able to replicate their success it will mean that they can use the patient’s own stem cells, from their own skin tissue, with no possibility of rejection.
“This is an important step for stem cell therapeutics,” noted Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Research Officer of the National MS Society in an article
on the NMSS website. “The hope is that skin or other cells from individuals with MS could one day be used as a source for reparative stem cells, which could then be transplanted back into the patient without the complications of graft rejection,” he added.
In a brochure published by the NMSS advances being made in research and the role the society is playing in those efforts are outlined.
According to the NMSS, “Just a few short years ago, there was little belief that nervous system repair was even possible. Through the tireless efforts of the National MS Society and other funding partners and researchers around the world, there is not just belief, but a whole new field that has emerged to pursue strategies to repair the nervous system and restore function to people with MS.”
So while research is still being done to find ways to treat MS, and other studies are looking at the triggers or trying to find a cause, there is also advancement being made to undo the damage this disease has inflicted on so many. Maybe one day people living with MS can finally give the researchers the standing ovation they so deserve.