MS Research Roundup: March 2, 2015
Second PML Case With Fingolimod; Canadian Mesenchymal Stem Cell Trial Set to Go; Charcot Winner: Giancarlo Comi; #GOOB Art; Private Science Funding
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PML in Patient on Fingolimod
Last week, Novartis reported that a patient was diagnosed with the infection progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) while taking their drug, fingolimod (Gilenya). The company affirmed that the patient was in good condition and had been on the medication for over 4 years prior to the infection. PML often raises alarm bells in patients and physicians alike, but Gavin Giovannoni, MBBCh, Ph.D., of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry put the case in perspective on his blog. He emphasized that 114,000 patients have been treated with fingolimod and that cases of PML have so far been rare. However, this is the second confirmed case of PML in a patient who had not recently switched to fingolimod from natalizumab (Tysabri, Biogen). PML is a rare and severe demyelinating condition in the brain caused by the common John Cunningham (JC) virus, usually occurring in immunosuppressed people, including those on some disease-modifying therapies for MS. (Bloomberg, Multiple Sclerosis Research Blog, Novartis)
Canadian Mesenchymal Stem Cell Trial Set to Go
A small study billed as the first mesenchymal stem cell therapy trial for MS in Canada will soon take place at two sites, the Ottawa Hospital and the Health Sciences Centre, Winnipeg. It is part of an international research effort that will involve about 160 people in nine countries. The Canadian trial, called MESCAMS, will be recruiting 40 people with relapsing and progressive forms of the disease as soon as March, Ottawa research coordinator Catherine Hilliker told MSDF. Participants will be randomized to either immediate or delayed experimental therapy. The trial is backed by a $4.2 million grant ($3.34 million U.S.) from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation. The study will boost numbers of a person’s own mesenchymal stem cells, thought to be leftover reserves from embryonic development, MESCAMS lead investigator Mark Freedman, M.D., FRCPC, of the Ottawa Hospital explained in a video series about the trial. MESCAMS aims to determine how well and safely mesenchymal cells can encourage repair of the central nervous system by honing in on areas of injury and releasing anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective factors. If successful, mesenchymal stem cell therapy may have an advantage over hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, because it requires no chemotherapy to knock back the immune system. (ClinicalTrials.Gov, CTV News Ottawa, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, YouTube)
Charcot Winner: Giancarlo Comi
Is it too early to start talking about #ECTRIMS2015, the biggest international MS meeting in the world, which will be held this year from October 7 to 10 in Barcelona, Spain? Most of the program is up in the air, but now we know who will give the prestigious Charcot Lecture. Italian neurologist Giancarlo Comi, M.D., is the 2015 winner of the Charcot Award, given every 2 years by the MS International Federation for a lifetime of achievement in MS research. The award is named for French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, who made the first diagnosis of MS in 1868. His clinical-pathological definition is still used today. Among his pioneering contributions, Comi was an early proponent of earlier treatment, identifying and validating new therapeutic strategies based on early interventions, according to the press release. He also outlined the role of cellular therapy in neuroprotection and recovery, as well as authored guidelines for intense immunosuppression followed by autologous blood transplantation in MS. (ECTRIMS, MSIF)
Making something good out of something bad is an art form—literally—for artists with MS. The charity organization, Shift MS, recently launched a campaign called Good Out Of Bad, or GOOB, that showcases work from three different artists that portrays their feelings about their disease. The campaign exhibits a potpourri of work from a photographer, a designer, and a jeweler, all of whom explore their diagnosis in different and beautiful ways. The campaign aims to show not only the positivity found in the negativity of disease, but also that no two people with MS experience the disease in the same way. Art has proven to be a powerful way for people with MS to advocate for the disease by putting a frank face on its challenges. Previously, we reported on another photographer, Patricia Lay-Dorsey, who has been chronicling her life with MS in a project titled “Falling Into Place.” (BBC News, Shift MS)
Billionaires for Science
Scientific research was a favorite choice among America’s biggest donors last year, according to the latest top 50 list from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Of the $9.8 billion donors committed to nonprofits in 2014, $1.6 billion went to causes such as expanding research at children’s hospitals and university labs and creating new centers that will investigate the workings of the human cell. MS was not on this elite donors list, but neither was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. If the ice-bucket challenge was a person, it would have ranked in the top 20 for the $115 million it has raked in since July 29, 2014, for the ALS Foundation, involving an estimated 5% of the U.S. population. Private giving from individuals and foundations totals less than $4 billion a year, a veritable drop in the bucket compared to the $60 billion in federal funding for science. But the growing impact of privatizing science marks a profound change in the way science is paid for and practiced, the New York Times reported. Private philanthropy is no substitute for federal funding, which underwrites the risky basic science discovery that provides the foundation for innovation in understanding and curing diseases, such as MS, and generally fuels the innovation economy. (Chronicle of Philanthropy, New York Times)
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