The Latest Multiple Sclerosis Research
As yet, there is no widely accepted cure for multiple sclerosis (MS).
Currently the majority of research focuses on investigating the possible causes of the disease, drug treatments and how to alleviate, slow or suppress symptoms. Worldwide there are hundreds of research projects all looking into different aspects of the disease in the hope that one day there will be a cure.
Meanwhile researchers are desperately trying to find a definitive cause. They need to understand the disease itself better before finding ways to prevent or cure it.
In 2004 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (http://www.nmss.org) committed $35 million to more than 300 global research projects. According to the society's vice president of research programs, Stephen Reingold, the investment is paying off with new treatments, better diagnosis, symptom management and rehabilitation for people with MS.
Genetic research is discovering that there is no MS gene but there could be a combination of genes that are susceptible to the disease. Studies are looking at how these can be isolated to prevent the illness.
Immune studies are looking at how the immune system can be suppressed to prevent it attacking the protective myelin surrounding the nerves in the spinal cord and brain. Myelin degeneration is believed to be a cause of MS.
Other studies are focusing on finding out why women more susceptible to the disease and why MS is more prevalent in some parts of the world than others. Several research studies have shown that MS is predominantly a disease affecting people in the western and northern hemispheres. There are theories, as yet unproven, that environmental agents such as viruses and bacteria may contribute to the onset of the disease and that daylight and seasonal changes may have something to do with it.
Monitoring patients is a time consuming and lengthy process and the results of much of this research won't be known for several years.
Multiple Sclerosis Stem Cell Research
Studies into how damaged tissue may be repaired or replaced are among the most exciting and controversial developments. Researchers are looking at how stem cells can be cultured to replace the lost cells which provide insulation to some nerves. The aim is to restore the transmission of electrical impulses and get wasted muscles working again.
It's highly controversial because of the ethics involved in using stem cells from aborted foetuses. Back in 1998 it was found that when these cells were grown in laboratory conditions they could become almost all of the specialized cells in the body. This holds huge promise of being able to repair the damaged myelin sheath which protects the nerves. Ultimately this would be the longed for cure for multiple sclerosis.
According to Dr Samuel Ludwin, a neuropathologist at Canada 's Queen's University in Kingston , stem cell research is the key to conquering MS. But all this is a long way off. The ethical debate still rages and controlled research has only been done in laboratory conditions on animals.
While research continues into ways to provide a better quality of life for those with MS by improving drug treatment and early detection, the Holy Grail of scientists and sufferers is that elusive cure.