Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a long-lasting disease that can affect your brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves in your eyes. It can cause problems with vision, balance, muscle control, and other basic body functions. The effects are often different for everyone who has the disease.
It is estimated that 2.3 million individuals worldwide are affected by this condition and researchers have now found the next clue.
The majority of people with MS are initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), which is characterised by temporary periods called relapses, flare-ups, or exacerbations as new symptoms emerge.
According to new research published in Neurology, there is a drug that may improve some of the physical disability associated with the disease. It is called alemtuzumab, reports Medical News Today.
Alemtuzumab is a disease-modifying drug which is recommended for the treatment of RRMS. DMDs are a group of treatments for people with RRMS, which reduce the number of relapses individuals experience, as well as reducing the severity of relapses.
Alemtuzumab does that by killing T and B cells which are made by the immune system. Although in a normal person, T and B cells attacks viruses and bacteria in the body, in MS, these cells attack the the wrong places – they attack the covering around the nerves in the brain and spinal cord called myelin. What alemtuzumab does it that it prevents T and B cells entering the brain and spinal cord, thus stopping them damaging the nerves.
However, like other DMD therapies, treatment with alemtuzumabcarry carries significant health risks, in fact it is among the highest and most severe. That is why alemtuzumab is often reserved for use in people who have not responded well to other MS drugs. In this study however, the drug was used relatively early in the course of MS.
“While many MS drugs slow the progress of disability, there have been little data about the ability of current treatments to help restore function previously lost to MS,” says study author Dr. Gavin Giovannoni, Ph.D., of Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom.
Researchers enrolled participants with RRMS who had not responded well to one or more MS drugs and divided them into two groups. The first group of 426 people was treated with alemtuzumab, while the second group of 202 people was treated with the drug interferon beta-1a. Beta interferons reduce and may prevent the inflammation that damages nerves in MS.
Participants’ level of disability was assessed at the start of the study and then again every 3 months for a duration of 2 years.
By the end of the investigation, the researchers found that almost 28 percent of participants receiving alemtuzumab had improved on a disability test by at least one point on a scale of 0-10, compared with 15 percent of interferon beta-1a participants.
In comparison to people receiving interferon beta-1a, individuals receiving alemtuzumab were shown to be 2 ½ times more likely to improve on scores of thinking skills. Alemtuzumab participants were also found to be more than twice as likely to see an improvement in ataxia – a group of disorders that affect coordination, balance, and speech – allowing them to improve their ability to move without tremor or clumsy movements.
Dr. Bibiana Bielekova, of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, MD, and fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, said, “Longer studies are also needed to see how many people experience, or do not experience, improvement in disability over longer periods of time,” she adds.
Dr. Giovannoni concludes by saying that the benefits of alemtuzumab need to be considered along with the harms of using the drug, which include the risk of serious and rarely fatal autoimmune problems, as well as infusion reactions.