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On the shoulders of giants

Blog Summary

My multiple sclerosis diagnosis came as a total shock. Total shock as in going to the emergency room for a follow-up to a nosebleed and leaving four hours later with Bell's Palsy, a CT scan, contrast and no-contrast MRIs, and a preliminary diagnosis of MS. No kidding, it was that fast. I have two photos in my phone as an odd sort of commemoration. They are of the ER exam room just as I saw it shortly after the doctor left the room. My life changed a few minutes before 12:51pm. At least that's what the timestamp on the photo shows.

After hearing the matter-of-fact medical opinion, I sat on the examining table, smartphone in hand, furiously using Google. I wanted to learn more about the two-ton weight that just swung into my gut that left me utterly lost. I could not understand how I could have this chronic illness and display none of the stereotypical symptoms...

Myelin repair and stem cells get attention at AAN Meeting

Blog Summary

Tremendous advances in the understanding and treatment of MS were presented last week at the AAN Meeting in Vancouver. One of the areas getting the most attention was myelin repair. Myelin wraps around nerve fibers, like insulation on an electric cord. In MS the myelin is damaged, disrupting electrical signaling and making the nerves more susceptible to damage that leads to progression. Myelin repair is seen as a promising approach for restoring lost function and slowing down – or even stopping – progression.   We have recently come to learn that the brain is full of spare cells waiting to be called into the service of repairing myelin. In early MS, these cells find their way to areas of damage, wrap around nerve fibers and repair myelin. However, as the years go by, they lose this ability. Finding ways to stimulate the brain's ability to repair itself is an area of intense study and several notable presentations were made at last week’s meeting...

How does diet impact MS?

Blog Summary

It’s so interesting to see new studies on the potential impacts of diet on MS. Is there something people can eat, or stay away from, that would actually help make life with MS better? Studies presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) showcase this growing area of research, but did not all find positive results. That’s ok. All of these are arrows pointing us toward – or away from – solutions for people with MS. (Links are included to abstracts on the AAN site - access is free.) Walk down any grocery aisle and you’ll find products marketed as antioxidants.  Antioxidants block the action of “free radicals,” which are normal by-products of bodily processes that may cause tissue injury in MS. A poster presentation by Dr. Rebecca Spain and colleagues from Oregon Health & Science University reported promising results from a clinical trial of lipoic acid, an antioxidant supplement, in 51 people with secondary progressive MS... 

Studies advance emotional and cognitive health in MS

Blog Summary

Finding solutions that advance emotional wellness and cognitive function can make every aspect of living with MS better. As a clinical psychologist who has treated people living with this disease, I find it heartening to see how researchers presenting this week at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting are propelling this search forward. Here is just a small sample of their work. (Links are included to abstracts on the AAN site - access is free.) Let’s start with cognition – half or more of all people with MS will experience cognitive issues at some point. The fact that there is such a thing called “cognitive rehabilitation” rightfully suggests that there are options open to many that may help improve cognitive function. For example, Dr. Leigh Charvet and colleagues at New York University Langone Medical Center and the State University of New York at Stony Brook tested a computer-based cognitive training program in 135 people with MS. Of this group, 71 people used the training program – a series of brain-training games that are continuously adapted to keep the individual challenged – and 64 played regular video games for one hour per day, five days per week, over 12 weeks. Although the “placebo” video game group logged more playing time, those in the training group showed significantly greater improvement in cognitive function, as shown by a number of neuropsychological tests. I hope further testing makes this and similar programs easily accessible for improving cognition in MS...

We Rally: The Impact of Federal Medical Research Funding

Blog Summary

In September, the U.S. Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded through December 11, 2015, meaning federal agencies and programs receive a 0.2108% across-the-board cut in compliance with the Budget Control Act and Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget caps. The goal is to work out a comprehensive budget for FY 2016 before December 11th. This Fall two MS researchers joined forces on Capitol Hill to rally for federal MS research funding. Together they’re sharing their experiences to help us all better understand how the ongoing budget negotiations will affect their work...

Promising Therapies on the Horizon for All Forms of MS

Blog Summary

There was a lot of excitement at ECTRIMS this week about the emergence of new treatment approaches for all forms of MS, even progressive. Earlier blog posts have already covered emerging therapies including stem cells, nervous system repair strategies and rehabilitation and wellness approaches. So this report focuses on results from experimental therapies that are well on their way to being available to people with MS. 

Depression and its Impact in Multiple Sclerosis

Blog Summary

Most of us know that depression is a very common symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). What people may not know, perhaps because the topic is rarely discussed at dinner parties, is that suicide is one of the leading causes of early death in people with MS. For this reason, I was interested in the presentation at ECTRIMS 2015 of the Swedish study entitled, “Multiple sclerosis and risk of completed and attempted suicide – a national cohort study. ”  To be clear in our definitions, “completed suicide” is that which results in death and “attempted suicide” is that which does not.

ECTRIMS: Research Spotlight on Diet and Wellness Approaches

Blog Summary

A big part of my excitement at the ECTRIMS meeting is seeing so many researchers from around the world working hard to find the best solutions for people affected by MS. I found this to be especially true in the growing area of lifestyle and  wellness research  -exploring diet, exercise, physical activity and other approaches -  all of which people can manage themselves to improve how they feel and possibly how their MS evolves. 

New Findings on Stem Cell Transplantation, including HSCT, in MS

Blog Summary

Transplantation of stem cells is a promising area of research that could lead to strategies that stop or even reverse damage caused by MS. Advances in this approach were presented during the ECTRIMS meeting in Barcelona this week. Stem cells can be found in many parts of the body and they have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types that have the potential to regenerate damaged tissue. This ability offers a new approach for treating diseases, including MS. In this update, I will be talking about two promising approaches: hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, and mesenchymal stem cell transplantation.

What Does “Benign” Multiple Sclerosis Really Mean?

Blog Summary

Benign multiple sclerosis is a misleading and controversial term. Some neurologists do not recognize this as a form of MS at all. (Many people who meet the criteria for having benign MS will tell you that it certainly feels anything but benign.) Some believe that if people make it to 10 years without significant disability, they will not really progress to needing assistance to walk and may be able to stop treatment. Many others simply disagree with the classification and do not make treatment decisions based on a “benign” designation. I sat in on one session at the 2015 meeting of the European Committee for Research and Treatment in Multiple Sclerosis, entitled “Long term course of apparently benign multiple sclerosis,” to see if the research was starting to clear the air.

Rising Multiple Sclerosis Rates in Middle East

Blog Summary

We know a great deal about the epidemiology of MS in the populations of the United States, Canada and Europe. However, we don’t hear much about what is going on with MS outside of these regions, especially in the Arab world. When I noticed a session  at the 2015 meeting of the European Committee on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, titled “Epidemiology of Multiple Sclerosis in the Middle East,” I eagerly attended to learn more.