What is MS?
A debilitating and progressive disease of the central nervous system that damages the protective cover, myelin sheath, that surrounds nerve fibres and consequently disrupts the speed and efficiency with which they transmit messages to and from the brain. It is more common in women than men and usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. At present there is no cure but various treatments are available which help to alleviate the symptoms.
Symptoms and types of MS
Symptoms can vary widely and includes fatigue, spasms, and problems relating to vision, speech, thinking, bladder & bowel control.
MS is classified into 4 types:-
- Relapsing remitting – about 85% of MS cases start with mild to severe occurrences of symptoms for short to long periods at random intervals for up to 10 to 20 years when the condition can become more progressive
- Primary progressive – in 10% to 15% of cases from the onset of MS the symptoms tend to be continuous and get progressively worse
- Secondary progressive – in time most people with relapsing remitting MS may find that their symptoms become more continuous and gradually worsen
- Benign – this term is sometimes used retrospectively in the 10% to 15% of relapsing remitting MS cases where mild relapses occur at very long intervals during which there are no or few symptoms but about half the people concerned eventually experience more severe and progressive symptoms
What causes MS?
Generally the cause of MS is not known but factors which might be involved include:-
- Malfunctions of the immune system which result in it attacking the myelin sheath protecting nerve fibres
- Environmental factors including smoking and limited exposure to sunlight which affects the bodies capacity to produce vitamin D
- Some viruses and bacteria
- Faulty genes which can result in MS being inherited
Worldwide Research concerning MS includes:-
- Efforts to find drugs that will protect myelin cells from damage or promote their recovery or replacement
- Investigating ways of stimulating specialised brain cells to produce replacement myelin
- Using stem immune stem cells from a patient’s own blood or bone marrow to replace immune system cells destroyed during chemotherapy
- Developing biomarkers to establish the effectiveness of experimental drugs in treating humans with MS including drugs which have worked well with animal models. Efforts are also being made to improve animal models to save time and expense
- Improving animal models
- Investigating the role of genes associated with an increased risk of MS
Research at the University of Nottingham & the Queen’s Medical Centre
The University’s MS Clinical Trial Unit was founded in 1994 and has participated in over 60 national and international clinical trials. The research focuses on magnetic resonance imaging, pathology, and immunology and is funded by the MS Society, the European Union, the Pharmaceutical Industry and by other national and international funding agencies. Since the pioneering work of Nobel Prize winning Sir Peter Mansfield in the 1970s the University has been at the forefront of MRI research as the Government recognised in 2014 by awarding it £7.7m for new scanning equipment. Examples of recent MS research projects are:-
- Professor Cris Constantinescu – Investigating how the stem cells of people with secondary progressive MS compare with stem cells from people with primary progressive MS.
- Professor Cris Constantinescu – Research to establish to what extent the presence of hookworms in the body of patients with relapsing–remitting MS or secondary progressive MS could reduce the severity of their symptoms and frequency of relapses by switching off the mechanism by which the body’s immune system becomes overactive.
- Associate Professor Dr Robert Dineen – The development of better imaging markers, using ‘Graph Theory’ analysis of magnetic resonance images, that could be used in trials of new treatments for MS and MS symptoms – particularly those relating to thought processes such as memory and concentration.
- Associate Professor Dr Nikos Evangelou – Investigating the use of magnetoencephalography and MRI scanning for the quick diagnosis of MS by identifying damage to the myelin which protects nerve cells and also studying the processes whereby myelin is regenerated in the brain.
- Associate Professor Dr Bruno Gran – Research to establish how viral, bacterial and parasitic infections can influence disease activity in MS through the activation of innate immune receptors on T lymphocytes and other white blood cells. One example of such infectious agents is the gram-negative bacterium Helicobacter pylori, associated with peptic ulcer and stomach cancer, which seems to have a protective effect on the development of MS and its animal model.
- Associate Professor Dr Bruno Gran – Investigating the disease mechanisms induced by the interaction of Epstein-Barr virus, a herpes virus strongly linked to MS by epidemiological studies, and the MS-associated endogenous retroviruses.
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