Over the past five years, there have been exceptional strides towards the treating of multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the central nervous system, damaging neurons, the spinal cord, and the myelin sheath, affecting the body’s ability to handle neurological messages.
Patients may become numb, and lose the ability to speak or walk. Symptoms vary from patient to patient.
The New York Times revealed the progress made by researchers and doctors in ridding patients of many multiple sclerosis symptoms. Three drugs in particular have been approved specifically for M.S. in the past two years: Ampyra, Nuedexta, and Botox. Ampyra improves walking ability; Nuedexta is prescribed for uncontrollable laughing or crying; and Botox for urinary incontinence and spasticity of the upper limbs.
Many M.S. symptoms are short, but patients may develop a more advanced form of the disease which can cause permanent damage. Once permanent damage is done, medications would not be helpful.
Doctors have found being proactive in treating the disease to be more beneficial. They now have a choice of several medications which zero in on particular molecules involved in the disease rather than the first drugs, which worked on the immune system to reduce brain inflammation.
“We’re shooting for disease-free status, where someone with M.S. is on a medicine and has no sign of M.S.,” said Dr. Richard Rudick, director of the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research, according to the Times.
Last year, Gilenya, the first oral drug used to treat M.S., gained approval because it was proven to cut relapse rates by 55 percent. Gilenya traps inflammatory cells in lymph nodes disabling them from travelling to the brain and damaging neurons.
The drug Tysabri reduces the relapse rate by about 70 percent but comes with a slight risk of a fatal brain infection. Patients can be screened for antibodies while on the drug.
BG-12, a neuroprotective drug, garnered attention at the annual international conference on M.S. in Amsterdam this October. Researchers reported a 53 percent reduction in relapses as well as a greater than 30 percent reduction of permanent disability over a period of two years. The drug also appears to have fewer risks than Gilenya.
Still, the disease and drugs affect patients differently and the research is still in its beginning phases.
“The biggest frustration is the huge uncertainty,” said Dr. Jerome J. Graber, an assistant professor of neurology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.
“I still can’t predict who will progress and what’s the best way to treat someone,” Graber added.