MS Research Roundup: November 21, 2014
Gulf War–Era MS Veterans; Modafinil Performance Questioned; More Reproducible Findings; MS in Movies and TV
MS Research Roundup collects items of interest to multiple sclerosis researchers from around the Web. Send us your tips: email@example.com.
MS and Veterans
In the past, people have raised concerns about a higher incidence of neurological disease, including MS, in military personnel deployed during the Gulf War era (1990-2007). Last week on Veteran’s Day, MS advocate and blogger Matt Cavallo, MPH, mused about his mother’s suspicions that his service on a ship may have contributed to his MS. “Two of the watches that I would stand every day were on a platform directly above the port and starboard Aegis radar systems,” Cavallo wrote. “We were told not to look down over the edge because of the radiation exposure. So what would I do … look over the edge.” He cited an article titled, “Surprises in MS Incidence Study Among Gulf War Era Veterans” by U.S. Medicine, a publication for veteran and defense healthcare professionals, about a 2012 paper published in the journal Brain. The study characterized a multiethnic cohort of people with MS among those deployed during the Gulf War era. The cohort has a high incidence of MS, about 9.6 per 100,000 people, with blacks having the highest overall rate of 12.1 per 100,000 and women having three times the incidence of men. Boots-on-the-ground and airborne rates were higher (Air Force and Army) than the ship-centered services (Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines). A follow-up 2014 study in Neuroepidemiology compared veterans of the first Gulf War (1990-91) with their deployed and nondeployed peers and found no significant difference in MS rates between the groups. (Brain, Matt Cavallo, Neuroepidemiology, U.S. Medicine)
Slow and Not Smarter
Like its cousins methylphenidate (Ritalin, Novartis; and others) and amphetamine (Adderall, Shire), the nonamphetamine stimulant modafinil (Provigil, Teva Pharmaceuticals) is a favorite among healthy students and professionals as a performance-enhancing drug. Though modafinil is only approved for people suffering from sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and other sleep disorders, nearly 90% of its sales are for off-label use, and 12% of all modafinil prescriptions are for people with multiple sclerosis. In MS, it is prescribed to treat fatigue—even though some data suggest it may not be as effective as believed. Now, new evidence questions the presumed cognitive enhancement. In a study of 64 healthy young volunteers, people taking a placebo did just as well on various cognitive tests as people on modafinil. In fact, people on modafinil took even longer to respond to questions than those on placebo. It’s known that modafinil slows down reaction time, but the thinking was that the drug reduced impulsivity, thereby improving performance. “Basically, this [study] suggests that the drug might slow you down without making you smarter,” lead author Ahmed Mohamed, Ph.D., of the University of Nottingham, U.K., said to National Public Radio. (JAMA Internal Medicine, Live Science, National Public Radio, New York Magazine, National MS Society, PLOS ONE)
Better Neuroscience Studies
If most published research findings are false, then odds are even worse for findings presented at scientific meetings. So where better to stage a session titled “Enhancing Reproducibility of Neuroscience Studies” than at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting earlier this week. The lively session included discussion of recent reports of the failure of researchers to replicate “landmark” cancer papers, drug target studies, and mouse models, reported Virginia Hughes for SFARI News. People in the session also discussed a proposed set of principles to improve the rigor of preclinical research, such as solid statistical analysis, data sharing, and transparency in study design. Editors from over 30 science journals drafted the proposal at a June joint workshop at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). More than 120 journals have endorsed the principles, published 30 October on the NIH’s website, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., told the audience. Some journals already had all or most of these guidelines in place, noted an editorial in Nature and another in PLOS, but standing together helps make the point. “What is really needed at the core is a cultural change by scientists and the institutions that fund them,” argued Moshe Pritsker, Ph.D., head of the scientific publishing company JoVE. (National Institutes of Health, Nature, PLOS Blogs, Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), Wired)
MS on the Big and Little Screens
It’s the weekend. Time to relax and watch a video, TV show, or movie. What to watch? If you choose MS as a theme, the pickings are slim, according to a tool that lets you see trends in movie and television dialogue over time. The Bookworm: Movies tool was created by Benjamin Schmidt, Ph.D., an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University. MSDF searched for “multiple sclerosis” in movies and in TV shows. As might have been expected, top TV mention goes to West Wing, featuring a U.S. president with MS. The top hit for a movie was an appalling 1941 Nazi euthanasia propaganda film involving (spoiler alert) a doctor killing his young wife after she is diagnosed with MS. With only a few other brief mentions in movies, MS is clearly in need of a Hollywood makeover. But scientists and research institutions aren’t waiting. A summer contest by the NIH elicited dozens of videos that can be viewed online, including winners by popular vote and NIH director’s choices. A Breaking Bad spoof by the University of New Mexico Clinical and Translational Science Center uses local actors to showcase how basic science might develop a pill to help a person with MS walk again. In another short from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Howard Weiner, M.D., and his white-coated colleagues play themselves with synchronized laboratory bench work and a clapping routine to highlight a hypothesis about Alzheimer’s disease. (Albuquerque Journal, Flowing Data, IMDb, National Institutes of Health, Washington Post)
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