News / Health

Researchers Offer Promising New Treatment for MS

Jessica Berman
Researchers have developed what’s being hailed as a “breakthrough” in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, a crippling autoimmune disease that attacks the outer sheath of nerve cells, eventually disabling many of those with the neurological condition. The new treatment involves sweeping away immune system cells responsible for MS.  

In multiple sclerosis, immune system white blood cells, called T cells, become misdirected, attacking the protective myelin sheath on the outside of nerve cells. In healthy individuals, T cells or leukocytes are responsible for destroying tumor cells or those infected with a virus.  

Myelin speeds the transmission of nerve impulses from the brain and spinal cord to limbs and the optic nerves, which also are insulated with myelin.  

When the myelin is destroyed, motor neuronal impulses are blocked, resulting in severe disability and blindness in many people with multiple sclerosis.  Worldwide, an estimated 2.5 million people are affected by MS.

U.S. and German researchers have developed a therapy that stops the autoimmune attack against myelin in its tracks without impairing the normal function of the immune system, according to Stephan Miller, a microbiologist and immunologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Miller says the experimental treatment targets T cells in the brain that are responsible for the disease.  The therapy, Miller says, has a different mode of action from current MS treatments, which suppress the immune system.

“They will not only try to down-regulate the autoimmune response that’s actually causing the disease, but will also make patients in the long run susceptible to everyday infections and increased rates of cancer," said Miller.

The novel MS treatment involves taking billions of T cells from a patient and engineering them to carry myelin antigens.  The approach is similar to the way a vaccine works.  

Antigens are harmless proteins from a virus or bacterium that do not cause illness but stimulate the immune system to recognize and destroy disease-causing microbes so a person exposed later to an infection doesn’t become ill.

Nine MS patients in Hamburg, Germany were treated with the myelin antigens. Miller says their immune systems considered the engineered T cells to be foreign, disabling and killing the harmful leukocytes

“The dead and dying cells to which the antigens are attached get uptaken by cells in the immune system that ends up tricking the immune system into believing that these antigens are no longer dangerous, and will actually turn off the immune response against the antigens rather than turning it on," he said.

The therapy swept away the dead T cells. The experimental treatment reset the patients’ immune systems, halting the leukocytes' attack on the nerve sheaths and reducing the assault on the myelin by 50 to 75 percent.

While not a cure for MS, Miller believes it’s a step in the right direction.  

An article on a promising, new treatment for multiple sclerosis is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.  

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs