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October 28th, 2011
12:25 PM ET

Is there a cure for multiple sclerosis?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Wednesdays, it's Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

Asked by Kayla in North Carolina:

Hi, I got multiple sclerosis about a year ago, and I'm very young. I was curious if there has been any further information about a possible cure or not. I know that people have been searching for a cure, but I'm curious as to how close they really are.

Expert answer

Multiple sclerosis is a neurologic disease that affects women more often than men. Onset is most commonly in the 20s or 30s.

MS is an autoimmune disease in which there is initially focal inflammation and then permanent damage to nerves of the central nervous system. The damage is really removal of the insulating material surrounding nerves. The tissue that insulates nerves is called myelin, and the damage is referred to as demyelination.

As a nerve that controls sensation or movement of a part of the body loses some of its myelin covering, the nerve may become dysfunctional. This can manifest itself as loss of that nerves function which can be sensation, vision, movement or coordination of movement. Affected sensory nerves can also cause pain.

There have been tremendous advances in our ability to diagnose and assess MS with the development of magnetic resonance imaging. Unfortunately, our understanding of the cause of this disease remains limited, as does our ability to treat it. There is some limited success in stopping or decreasing the severity of an MS attack. We would also like to stimulate a regrowth of the damaged myelin over the nerve. Unfortunately, this is not possible at this time.

There are several types of MS. Some patients have disease that will have an acute exacerbation followed by a prolonged quiet period, which can last years or decades. This form of disease is referred to as relapsed remitting MS, or RRMS. Others have a disease that gets progressively worse over time. There are two types of progressive disease. In primary progressive MS, or PPMS, symptoms steadily worsen over time from the very beginning. Secondary progressive MS, known as SPMS, begins as relapsed remitting disease and becomes progressive over time.

For an acute exacerbation of multiple sclerosis that can result in neurologic symptoms and increased disability or impairments in vision, strength or coordination, the preferred initial treatment is usually a type of steroid called a glucocorticoid. Patients who do not have a good response to steroidal therapy are often treated with plasma exchange. Plasma exchange is an extreme therapy that removes antibodies to myelin from the blood.

Patients with RRMS are often treated with immune-modulating drugs such as interferon or glatiramer acetate. Glatiramer is an exciting drug. It is a series of small proteins that are similar to myelin protein. It is thought to prompt the immune system to avoid attacking myelin.

Available treatments of primary and secondary progressive MS are of limited efficacy and have significant side effects. An additional fact to consider is that most trials have not lasted longer than two or three years and give only hints about long-term results of treatment.

In brief, no clinical trial has shown convincing evidence of benefit in the treatment of primary progressive MS. All suggested treatments for PPMS are empiric. Several drugs that are more commonly used in the treatment of malignancy, cladribine and mitozantrone, appear to have some activity.

In contrast, there is definite modest benefit in some treatments for secondary progressive MS. These treatments include various regimens of steroid therapy and the use of some drugs that modulate the immune system. Many of these drugs are more commonly used in treatment of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis such as cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and interferon.

MS should be treated by a neurologist with experience in managing it. The American Academy of Neurology has published treatment guidelines for MS.

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soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. vj

    Clearly, this MS article author doesn't have a clue about latest MS "cures". He didn't even mention the CCSVI treatment, which varies in success, but does significantly reduce MS symptoms in many patients. The Author sayd to use a neurologist, and they mostly focus on recommending very expensive drug treatments, and completely ignore the patterns of success related to CCSVI treatments, which are surgical treatments to remove blockages in neck veins, which in many cases drastically improved blood drainage from the brain and reduces MS symptoms. Next time, do better research when writing about MS rather than just quote MS Society information, which is controlled by neurologists and drug companies.
    I am not a provider or MS patient, but I write a Facebook page on the CCSVI treatment just because it seems there is such a campaign by neurologists and drug companies to downplay it. Facebook page is CCSVIusa .

    October 28, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • beth

      The author of this article stuck to answering this question by including what has been researched and found to be scientifally proven. For the author to answer a question from someone she has never seen or examined, he/she is limited in how she can answer or what information she is able to give. There is no scientific evidence to prove the long term effects of CCSVI. It has not been studied enough.Some small studies have shown it may be effective on a short term basis, but long term beneftis have yet to be identified. Some studies have also been done showing that the benefits that have seemed to come from this treatment have been short-lived, and also that the results in MS patients were no different that those wihout MS. If CCSVI is going to be brought up, then all of the existing information on it needs to be included. Instead there is an over emphasis on the positive without researching further to understand and consider it from all angles.
      Whoever it was that stated that they do not treat or even have MS but has a facebook page on CCSVI, to you I must say there is no way you can know what it is your writing about. Some proponents of this treatment focus on the positive effects seen in short term studies; Long term effects, as I said have yet to be studied. This doctor had to stick to medical facts, not opinion or speculations of other people. Obvioulsy you don't realize as well that MS does have to be managed by a neurologist trained in dealing with the disease; they are the ones who are trained in treating neurological disease of any kind. With MS being one of the most difficult to understand, even by most doctors, it is best to have a neurologist with experience with treating and managing the disease. I don't know why someone without any experience, personally or professionally, would claim to know more than an expert, other physicians, and even the patients themselves. It's a diseas you cannot understand unless your affected personally by it in some way.
      Also, there is no such diet that could possibly cure MS. Many people, including doctors who are sometimes ignorant about this particular disease, claim to have been cured or to have discovered a cure don't consider the fact that one can have an attack of MS, then go into remission for months or even years. So what may appear to have "cured" it is obvioust that a remission is more likely than a cure. I'm sure that there are aslo some who want to "claim" they have cured or found a cure because it would make them famous as well as wealthy. Why question the motives of the drug companies but not those who claim such things? If there really was a cure, there would not be milions of people all over the world suffering so and some dying from the disease. It isn't likely that every doctor would be dishonest enough to keep such a thing hidden.
      Consider other diseases such as cancer. When advances are made, better treatments become available etc. it is not hidden from its' sufferers. Why would it be so different with MS? If doctors were primarily concerned with monetary profits and not patient care, we would not be seeing the increasing amount of survivors from cancer and so many other diseases that are chronic and/or terminal. Why would a doctor work so hard at treating cancer effectively if they were just trying to stay in business? MS is no different; nor are the specialsts who treat the disease.
      When people are lashing out at the drug companies, or the doctors, making such claims that cures exist but are kept hidden so that doctors and drug companies can stay in business, it is the disease itself they are angry at. It is typical to be angry at something that can be so sinister, unpredictable and hard to manage or control. When faced with anything that has these qualities, it is human nature to want to blame someone or something. People are desparate for answers and take their anger out on the most convenient ones.
      A Neurologist is a specialist in neurological disease, which is what MS is. Those who choose to specialize in MS do it because they want to help those with MS achieve the best quality of life possible. A specialist that I see takes patients with any tupe of insurance, regardless of how much he may be reimbursed because he has a heart for his patients. Even if there was a cure, he'd still have more patients than most doctors could handle. He does a lot of his own research and teaches too.
      In regard to the idea of MRI's being put together and studied, I would imagine that it would be difficult as MS shows up in such a wide variety of ways. What the physician usually does is obtain MRI's off a patient and compares them to the patients other ones. Research studies though, are a regular thing, and it is through these studies that ways to manage the disease are discovered, not by speculating as so many do, but by research. There is a lot of effort and money being used to discover a cure, so how does that benefit anyone involved? They aren't making extra money for doing these. It is though a lot of research that it was found that certain disease modifying drugs have proven to be effective in slowing the progression down and sometimes providing symptom relief.
      For those who bash the doctors who treat MS and the drug companies, claiming that they care only about monetary benefits consider some things. Are you aware of how much money these companies spend on the research they do on a drug or treatment before it can be passed by the FDA? They also spend money testing drugs or treatments that don't turn out to be effective and if all they cared about was money to be made, they would't care about a drug's effectiveness, just in selling it. Are you aware of the vast amount of programs they have to offer people who cannot afford their copays or can't afford the drugs, or may be underinsured? They provide a lot of their medications at a reduced cost or for no cost for people in need of it but without the financial resources to obtain it. Additionally, each specialty drug has a program of their own where patients can contact with questions, they provide information on the disease, and offer many different services to the patients on them. All of this is free of charge. One major factor that contributes to the high costs of these drugs is the fact that the drug companies have usually spend so much money researching the drugs, to test for effectivness as well as safety that part of the cost includes recouping the large amount of money they have put forward. This is all for the benefit of the patient.
      Again, such doctor bashing or drug company bashing is rooted in anger at the disease, and who doesn't hate it? Do any of you ever study the statistics since these drugs have been made available to the MS patient? Statistics would show the large reductions in the number of people who become severly disabled. Before these drugs became available, when someone with MS was diagnosed, it was a given that it would progress, it was basically a death sentence; now for many their disease has been stable, progression is at an all time low and the number of deaths related to MS has decreased dramatically. Look at the facts instead of making claims that cant be backed up by facts. Let the evidence speak for itself.

      April 21, 2012 at 06:40 | Report abuse |
    • Timmy Suckle

      I kissed my way up to CEO at a health insurance company. Now I take over $1,000,000 of your health care dollars for NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. And that’s just me. Now think about how many other CEOs, VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. are at my company alone. Now multiply that by thousands of others at hundreds of other health insurance companies. From 10 to 25% of your health care dollars go towards administration that adds NO VALUE to your health care. But my company’s PAC dollars will continue to fool you little people into thinking that a single payer system will be bad. Little people like you are so easy to fool. Little people also don’t realize that a single payer system is the ONLY system that would allow little people (as an entire country) to negotiate better health care prices. Little people don’t realize that the Medical Cartels already know that. And that is the reason why the Medical Cartels spend so much PAC money from the hospitals and doctors lobbying against a single payer system. Some little people say that a single payer system would cost you little people more. But if that were true, then wouldn’t the hospitals and doctors WANT that extra money? Yes they would. So why do the Medical Cartels lobby against a single payer system? It’s because the Medical Cartels know it would allow little people to negotiate better health care prices. And that’s what the Medical Cartels are afraid of. Period.
      But us big wigs at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies don’t ever need to worry about health care no matter what it costs. We get our health care paid for one way or another by you little people. And we get the little people that work at our companies to contribute to our PACs. And us big wigs say it’s to protect the little peoples’ jobs. But in reality it would be in the little peoples’ best interest to NOT contribute to the PAC. Again, little people are so easily fooled. I won’t ever have to worry about losing my job with so many little people being brain washed by the Medical Cartels’ PAC money. Not only that, the Medical Cartels’ PAC money is used to elect so many republicans that will never allow a single payer system. Republicans have always fought against any meaningful health care reform. But that’s what our Medical Cartels’ PACs pay them for. Politicians can be bought so easily.
      Pretty soon the only people that will be able to afford health care is us big wigs. And that’s the way it should be. We don’t want you little people using up the resources when we need them. And once again, I thank you little people for capping my SS tax at the $117,000 level. Now I only pay 1.17% SS tax and you little people pay 6.2%. Also, thank you for extending my tax breaks. I’m using the extra money on my vacation houses.

      April 16, 2014 at 16:24 | Report abuse |
  2. Nathalie Monfils

    I have MS for 10 years now and not on any medication anymore, my skin does not agree with injection.My neuro told me about
    gilenya just to let you know that there is new meds coming beside gilenya. Stay strong everybody

    October 29, 2011 at 18:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jenny Y

    Definitely read about the relationship between Vitamin D and MS. It can help prevent MS from getting worse.

    October 31, 2011 at 07:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ruby

    Please be sure to research Terry Wahls, MD. She is a doctor and researcher at the Univ of Iowa who was able to reverse her MS through a very intense nutritional regimen... lots of vegetables, good quality fish and no gluten-containing grains. She has a book called "Minding My Mitochondria", but you can also find information on this diet online... there is a series of youtube videos from a presentation she did. Very remarkable woman... and it is worth a try. If nothing else, you will be giving your body the best nutritional support to stay strong.

    December 5, 2011 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dev

      I have been a loyal, happy customer of Rimuhosting for a rlleay long time - maybe even from the first year (2001?), in NY and Dallas. I still am I think you handled everything so well - especially communicating with your customers over so many channels with real information instead of some standard corporate talk - I appreciate that. I have always appreciated the amazing level of personal customer care you provide. The power outage event rlleay shows what your company/our hosting company is made of, and I am still a happy loyal customer. I don't know how I would deal with (my) customers (eek!) but actually I think your responses are a good model, and I hope that my future customers (for one site newly re-launched and another one soon) will be understanding too!Some things moving forward that would be helpful:1. How do I know or check some services are running ok, even if they are back up? For example, if mysql and postgres just restarts, is it ok or do I have to check further?2. I run/help with 4 servers on Rimuhosting. How do we make things more robust without spending a lot of money on duplicating service around the world? For example your temporary page - it would be good for any site to have a fallback in case the main server is not up. - a howto on throwing a couple switches and creating a temporary host site would be good (like change your DNS setting and post the page on the temp site). 3. I am not so confident of the Dallas facility as I am of Rimuhosting...maybe have a second basket for all your eggs?Thank you Peter, Carl, Glenn, Liz, Elton, Felicisimo and everyone!All the Best,Daniel

      April 7, 2012 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
  5. single round CP?

    And nobody has mentioned a single pulse of cyclophosphamide. It worked extremely well for the people who did the initial trials and they were very sick. CP kills a lot of a person's white cells, including the B cells making anti-myelin antibodies and the dendritic cells presenting antigen. After washout, the bone marrow will replenish all the cells and the Bs that react to myelin will not be among them. Fact: CP treatment will briefly knock you on your tush and you'll briefly be immunodeficient so a hospital stay and masks will be needed. Fact: if you kill those reactive B cells and the dendritic and T cells doing the damage BEFORE you endure ensuing multiple rounds of MS, you will reduce or eliminate your lifetime morbidity. You must consult your doctor about this and get their input about the risk/benefit ratio. It's something to research, think about and discuss. It is an option.

    December 6, 2011 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Margo

    Ruby is right. Here is a presentation that Dr. Wahls did. It's a testament to the healing powers of good nutrition http://realfoodblog.com/health/a-brave-woman-and-the-diet-that-cured-her-multiple-sclerosis/

    Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food. It's sad that today's medical establishment regards this approach with such skepticism.

    December 27, 2011 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. George

    There is a cure for MS now. It will be FDA-approved in approximately ten years timeframe following conclusion of the phase III clinical trial currently underway. You can read all about it here:

    http://themscure.blogspot.com/2010/06/stem-cell-transplantation-reference.html

    December 29, 2011 at 12:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Multiple sclerosis quizzes

    For as several while 75% coming from all patients with ms, tremors certainly are a part of their life. Tremors are generally referred to as the particular unconscious, rhythmical and also changing ...Multiple Sclerosis

    January 28, 2012 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ralph Abelow

      I read your commentsAny s on li eye. I have soma,would like to eavemy brain for medic aal study when igo.Do not want Otto go to the mssociety.Any suggestions?Iam a 63 yr old ale

      February 21, 2012 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
  9. Josh

    Perhaps you should check this out – she had MS...yes had MS and was in a wheelchair taking drugs at first. The drugs did not help, but something else did:

    http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/weight-loss/mitochondria-rejuvenating-diet-the-nutritional-experts-bash/#more-4828

    February 24, 2012 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Udit

      I always igmniae research scientists somewhere trying to make connections with all of these things. The question is, are all these MRIs being sent somewhere for review? If we gathered all the anecdotal data everyone's neurologists have heard, would there be a clear pattern that people in the research labs and even those in population-studies are missing? A lot of studies are started when physicians report trends that they observe could we do a better job, a more proactive job of spotting those trends through technology?

      April 8, 2012 at 10:59 | Report abuse |
    • beth

      Did she have MS? Or was she misdiagnosed? That is common. Also how could it be known that drugs didn't help but something did given the fact that MS can flare up and go into remission without any warning. It has a mind of its own. Many peole think something cured them when actually they just went into remission. Remission for some can last for months or even years. People with MS, including myself can feel so desparate for a cure that it's almost tempting to dream one up, or claim anything that appears to offer even a hint of hope. We are exhausted from fighting an unpredictable, mysteryous disease that beats up on us and steals away some much of our life and so we will sometimes cling to any thing offering a shred of hope to cure us.

      April 21, 2012 at 06:49 | Report abuse |
  10. Max Brooks

    Check into the use of medical marijuana

    April 3, 2012 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Luci

    Shannon, I agree with MaryAnn, good on you for putting rouyself out there. This is what learning is all about and this is why I put myself out in front of teachers and teach their students 'off the cuff' and use it as a learning process for all. I really reflected on your points about learning and it took me back to a literacy program ELIC ( Early Literacy Inservice Course) back in the early 1980's where we took time to think about how we learn. It is so similar to the video clip that you used by Dan Coyle. I too am learning something right now French! I do not speak panther language and I did not learn French at school. I am living in a French speaking community with no English. I have to practice everyday by putting myself out there and immersing myself in the learning in action. I have coaching Ian ongoing way as my weak attempts at the Langauge are guided by the wonderful people of the village and I must say all the French people I deal with are free coaches for me on a daily basis. I make myself go to French speaking doctor, hair salon, nail technician, friends, accept invitations to long lunches with French friends. I have to focus on my learning and my brain gets tired from the intensity of the process. But learning is a process and I make mistakes and I take risks and I attempt and make approximations. This is how I alerting and I too am sticking with it. But I have not put my modest attempts at French on my YouTube but maybe I better start following your example. Keep at it and we will compare notes. ( sorry for any errors I am on my iPad and I cannot go back and check If someone has a solution to this problem I need help!)Carmel

    April 14, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ethics Board

    These "expert opinions" are terrible. CNN should really get rid of this section. Asking the Chief Officer of the American Cancer Society about MS?! 20 bucks says he went to uptodate.com, typed in "Multiple Sclerosis", copy and pasted and then typed in "You should see a neurologist to discuss your options". Come on.

    May 4, 2012 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. BA

    The hallmark symptoms of multiple sclerosis are unpredictable periods of exacerbation, remission, and progression which changes your life and can have a huge psychological impact on MS patients. According to Natural Standard, physical therapy, psychotherapy,and reflexology are some options that could help with mental and emotional health.

    June 16, 2012 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. E.S.

    Go vegan. Strictly vegan...no meat (fish included), no dairy of any kind. Read The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. If you do, in several months, you would feel compelled to share with others the benefits of a vegan diet.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Shelly

    The complexity of this disease overwhelms me. I want to to what is right for myself. Be well informed and well educated on this disease but sometimes it just feels like too much for my already very taxed M.S. brain. It's difficult even relating what M.S. is doing to me to my friends and family let alone doctors who don't really seem particularly interested in listening.

    July 17, 2012 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. PillTablets

    http://www.pilltablets.com The more safe, secure and reliable pharmacy online. Offering you outstanding prices for any of your medical needs. At pilltablets.com you'll receive discreet, no cost medical consultations with state licensed doctors and pharmacists. We have Tramadol, Fioricet, Rozerem Sold without prescription. 100% US Medicines, FDA approved and best of all COD payments accepted. Satisfaction Guaranteed!

    August 25, 2012 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. K

    I was diagnosed several years ago at the age of 18. For young people with MS, I suggest getting in contact with SUNY Stonybrook. They have great programs where you can go on retreats with other teens with MS and have great discussions about how to cope :)

    September 19, 2012 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. James Pridgen

    Opexa Therapeutics is a company that is doing some very compelling research on a drug for MS. I do not know how close it is to marketing but I would contact the company for details.

    August 7, 2013 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Beth

    I read an article the other day about new research on MS & aspartame ingestion. Drinking diet soda or other "sugar free" items have aspartame in them. & several MS suffers saw great imporvements in their mobility and pain when they stopped drinking soda cold turkey. I would try it. Anything not to take medications again. Can't hurt right? & READ LABELS.

    October 6, 2013 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. B

    The book, the Epidemic of Absence, discusses the use of parasitic infections to ameliorate the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. I think there is a section on MS in that book, might be worthwhile to check out if you have MS.

    April 29, 2014 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply

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