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March 29th, 2010
09:34 AM ET

Scientists find there may be two forms of multiple sclerosis

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Scientists and doctors who study multiple sclerosis know, as of now, one of the best way to treat the condition is with beta-interferon. But over the years, the drug's effectiveness has been lukewarm in some people causing a third of all MS patients who are on the drug to suffer from uncomfortable flu-like side effects. Many can't handle it and so far, researchers have never figured out why.

Now scientists from Stanford University School of Medicine may have discovered that there are actually two kinds of multiple sclerosis and that each reacts differently to the standard treatment.

Researchers know multiple sclerosis is triggered when immune cells, called T cells, attack the myelin sheathing, which insulates neurons in the body. Healthy myelin sheathing is essential for the nervous system to function properly. When this material is attacked, it can cause serious symptoms including paralysis and blindness in those with MS.

In this study, published in the current issue of Nature Medicine, researchers established animal models of multiple sclerosis by injecting mice with myelin into their immune systems, causing it to attack the animals' own myelin nerve-cell coatings, much as MS attacks a human being’s. By looking at these animals and treating them with beta-interferon and then testing their blood the researcher found there were actually two different types of MS, caused by different patterns of T cells in the body. So what works for one, doesn't necessarily work for the other.

The researchers found that beta-interferon improved the condition of animals who had MS caused by gamma-interferon-secreting T cells, but made the symptoms worse in those mice whose MS was caused by IL-17-secreting T cells.

Intrigued, the investigators turned to humans. One of the study's authors, Dr. Brigit deJong, had previously been involved in research in Amsterdam in which multiple sclerosis patients were treated with beta-interferon and closely followed. The Stanford group obtained blood samples taken from 26 of these patients both before and about two years after the initial treatment. Without knowing which samples came from patients who had responded well or poorly to beta-interferon treatment, they went about measuring IL-17 levels in those samples. The human results were much like the animal models. Those with high amounts of IL-17 T cells had had negative reactions to beta-interferon.

"By making these distinctions in large human studies, people with multiple sclerosis might someday be able to take a simple blood test to see whether they are likely to respond to treatment with the standard multiple-sclerosis therapy." says senior study author Lawrence Steinman, M.D. of the Neurology and Neurological Sciences Department at the Stanford University School of Medicine,

If an inexpensive test can be developed to detect IL-17 in humans, MS patients and their doctors will know whether beta interferon is or isn't going to work. "For those who don't have the IL-17 T cells," notes Steinman, "those patients can receive beta-interferon and probably not in a diluted form but in a higher dose, which will help them better fight their illness."

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society MS affects 400,000 people in the United States. Dr. Patricia A. O'Looney, vice president of biomedical research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says the new research is very exciting. "Obviously this will need more testing in human subjects," explains O’Looney, "But this is a positive step in the right direction to helping to treat MS and other autoimmune conditions."

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soundoff (158 Responses)
  1. Peggy

    Thanks for the post Scarlet. I am going to be inquiring about LDN.

    Regaring vitamins, I also take vitamin A because it is good for eyesight. So far, so good.

    I would also love to hear from others about LDN and vitamins.

    April 10, 2010 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Rebecca Guerrero

    I posted earlier, my copaxone shots were leaving terribale injection site reactions. My Dr. has taken me off copaxone and I will start Avonex in 3 weeks, But I have only been off copaxone for about a week, I feel better some of the feeling has come back to my legs and I have more energy. The thing I am conserned about is I have about a 4 weeks worth of copaxone and they tell me to through away the medicine, seems hard for me to do because so.. many people are without meds and can't afford meds, It is like throughing away hope.

    April 13, 2010 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Ursula

    Fellow concerned MS patient's and loved ones,

    I have been taken Copaxone for seven years now (since the onset of my MS), the only side effects I have from the drug are sore spots upon injecting. I have seen my MRI's and they show no progression of the disease.

    I was told by my Dr. that there is a 4% chance of passing this disease on genetically. When I was diagnosed my daughter was 5 yrs old. Hopefully I did not pass it on to her.

    I did however read a study that was being done by an Italian doctor where a balloon is inserted into the vessels to open them up in order to allow proper blood flow.

    Hopefully one or more of these new techniques will be effective.

    Thank you for all sharing your stories.

    Ursula

    April 13, 2010 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Carrie

    I have been taking Copaxone since '07. It's been uneventful.

    Who know if it's been helpful. .

    But my big question when reading others' posts is:WHY DOESN'T ANYONE TALK ABOUT REHABILITATION? Who knows if we can individually slow the disease. No one seems to really know anything about that. But it is known that we can recover from brain damage.

    STROKE VICTIMS RECOVER FROM IMPAIRMENT, thru the plasticity of the brain. MS patients are generally missing a lot less brain than stroke patients. So why can't we recover from our limps, balance problems, speech and swallowing problems, etc, Also?

    You see how stroke victims work at it? It's not easy. But don't give up and don't become such friends with your walking aid that you stop trying to move without it. The brain can rewire itself and will thru your effort.

    Of course that's not to say that a new exacerbation won't come along and damage your new wiring.

    April 21, 2010 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Multiple Sclerosis

    It was only natural for scientists to find an easier way to test for Multiple Sclerosis
    and to see if the treatment will work or not on the patient. Fortunately, once the results of this study are published, it will be easier for everybody to know what are their options and what they can do to minimize or even cure MS.

    September 13, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. deestefuh

    thanks for this nice post 111213

    February 20, 2011 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Wayne Lomax

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.