Ryan Kavanaugh provides support to a number of different medical organizations, including both hospitals and nonprofits that focus on treating and researching cures for specific diseases. One of these organizations is the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society. While this organization plays a vital role in supporting patients with MS and their loved ones, scientific research is also at the heart of its mission. The research funded by the National MS Society has three primary functions: stopping the progression of the disease, restoring nervous system function, and eliminating the disease altogether.
MS is a complex disease that presents differently in each patient diagnosed. For that reason, research on MS must be comprehensive. Through research, patients gain access to better treatments, and better healthcare policies are put in place to protect individuals with MS and those who will be diagnosed in the future. Each year, the National MS Society aims to increase its investment in research to find solutions to some of the most pressing issues surrounding the disease. While the organization encourages scientists to focus on priorities like disease progression, it also provides funding for unique, cutting-edge research.
Below is a look at some of the important research now being conducted with support from the National MS Society.
Vitamin D and Its Influence on MS Risk and Disease Activity
No single cause for MS has been identified, and researchers currently believe that a number of different environmental and genetic factors play a role. These different factors may also dictate how severely the disease presents. The most current research is investigating the role that vitamin D plays in disease development and progression. Research has suggested that reduced levels of vitamin D in the blood increase the risk of developing the disease. In addition, vitamin D may play a role in neuroprotection and myelin repair, which could make it an important tool in restoring function in people with advanced MS.
The National MS Society funded preclinical studies involving vitamin D and is currently supporting clinical trials involving vitamin D supplements. One study supported by the organization has recruited 172 patients with relapsing-remitting MS to investigate whether higher than currently recommended doses of vitamin D supplements reduce disease activity when combined with other standards of care, such as glatiramer acetate. Another study sent questionnaires to more than 60,000 radiologic technologists to examine the role that UVB exposure, which increases production of vitamin D in the body, has on developing MS. The study is also looking at other risk factors, such as obesity and smoking, to potentially identify interplay between these risk factors.
In addition, researchers at Ohio State University is now focusing on how levels of vitamin D in early life increase or decrease risk of MS. Vitamin D plays a key role in the central nervous system and reduced levels could make MS development more likely. To investigate the issue, the researchers are using mouse models.
The Effect of Diet on Disease Development and Progression
Another important area of MS research examines the effect of diet on development of the disease, as well as on disease activity. All individuals with a chronic disease should strive to optimize their health through a balanced diet, but the best diet for someone with MS is still a matter of debate. Over the decades, a number of different diets have been touted as treatments or even cures for the disease, with little evidence to support any of these claims. The situation becomes more complicated when considering the rigorous, controlled studies conducted to test these theories, most of which have produced very mixed results. However, researchers have made some strides in recent years.
While the vitamin D concern falls under the umbrella of diet, researchers are also considering the role of salt and antioxidants. Some research now suggests that dietary salt speeds the development of MS-like symptoms in mice. The National MS Society is funding research that is looking deeper into the role that salt plays in the immune system and studying whether reducing salt intake will inhibit MS immune attacks.
Other researchers have found that free radicals in the body may play a role in MS immune attacks and are now investigating whether any antioxidants can prevent these free radicals from triggering such attacks. Some of the antioxidants currently under investigation include lipoic acid, idebenone, and green tea.
The Potential Link between CCSVI and MS
An Italian researcher reported in 2009 that all patients he treated with MS also had chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), an issue with blood drainage in the brain and spinal cord. The research posited that this condition could contribute to the nervous system damage associated with MS. The National MS Society, in collaboration with the MS Society of Canada, quickly funded seven projects to investigate the claim. In addition, several other research organizations around the world funded investigations with mixed conclusions.
To ensure that nothing is missed in the search for potential treatments for MS, the organization has continued to fund similar studies. The growing evidence suggests that there is not actually a link between MS and CCSVI. The inconsistencies in results may be attributed to faulty interpretation of data, inconsistencies in imaging techniques, and even the hydration status of study participants. As a result, the FDA has issued a safety communication about treating CCSVI in patients with MS, which serves as a warning that the risks involved may outweigh the potential benefits. However, a study is still underway in Canada, and the National MS Society hopes to have a better handle on the connection between CCSVI and MS early next year.