MS Research Roundup: May 27, 2014
Sex, Drugs, and Preclinical Research; Promising Biomarker for Progressive MS; Journalist With MS Finds Hope in Stem Cell Trial
MS Research Roundup collects items of interest to multiple sclerosis researchers from around the Web. Send us your tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NIH Calls for End of Sex-Skewed Research
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are rolling out new guidelines to make sure that research on animals uses both male and females. Same goes for tissue samples and cells. The plans were laid out in a commentary published May 14 in the journal Nature by NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Janine Clayton, M.D., director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health. Gender bias is ingrained in laboratories where new treatments begin, hurting basic biomedical research and neuroscience. It’s “a blind spot," Clayton told Vox. "I don't think people are doing this on purpose. They just didn't think about it." The change is expected to improve the reproducibility of studies as well as the effectiveness and safety of new drugs. Besides avoiding what comedian Stephen Colbert called “a few whoops-a-daisies,” the co-ed consideration may also spark new discoveries. The commentary—but none of the news coverage—highlighted several studies in MS to illustrate the point. Gender differences in the widely used MS animal model, rodent experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, have led to a new experimental estrogenic compound being studied for neuroprotection. Another sex difference in the animal model and human MS may arise from the protective effect of genes on the Y chromosome and disease-boosting genes on the X chromosome. And MS risk has been associated with genes from mothers. As MSDF just reported, there’s evidence that female mice work just as well in the cuprizone mouse model of demyelination, which traditionally used only males. (The Colbert Report via io9, National Institutes of Health, NPR Shots, Nature News, New York Times, Vox)
Possible Progressive Biomarker
In MS, brain imaging is best known for detecting inflammatory lesions. But imaging certain protein changes in normal-appearing white matter may help predict progression in MS and serve as a long-sought biomarker for trials of neuroprotective drugs, researchers reported online May 19 in JAMA Neurology. In the longitudinal study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Yale University in New Haven, CT, devised a telltale protein ratio with a small group of patients and controls. Then the team tested the imaging marker in an independent group of patients, mostly with relapsing-remitting MS, for up to 4 years. The measure captures an element of both the immune and neurodegeneration processes and is significant and interesting enough to include in neuroprotection trials now, wrote David Miller, M.D., of University College London, in an accompanying commentary. However, the findings need to be replicated by other groups, and the marker is not reliable enough to predict the course of disease in individuals, he also cautioned. Clinical research in MS desperately needs better early outcomes measures to test new treatments for progressive MS. In a bonus, this technique may reveal insights into what’s happening in the brain. One of the proteins (abbreviated mI) comes from glial cells, particularly astrocytes, and rises in response to the damaging innate CNS immune process. The other protein (NAA for short), made by mitochondria in neurons and axons, drops with their loss or dysfunction. Another imaging sequence to measure myelin itself did not predict brain atrophy or disability, reported Sara Llufriu, M.D., Ph.D., now a postdoctoral fellow at Hospital Clinic and Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS) in Barcelona, Spain, and her co-authors. (JAMA Neurology, Medpage Today)
MS and a Whole Lot More
This week, journalist and author Richard Cohen stopped by NBC’s TODAY Wednesday to talk about his participation in a first-of-its-kind stem cell clinical trial, the raw feelings he shares on his blog, and his most recent health crisis. Cohen, 66, is married to NBC News special correspondent Meredith Vieira, who may be the cameraperson behind his blog video showing his first experimental spinal infusion. Cohen writes directly and lyrically about living with MS. An early hard lesson came when, against the advice of his father, a physician also living with MS, he confessed his new diagnosis at age 25 to the NBC executive recruiting him out of graduate school. So he stayed mum with CBS until he could prove his skills and moved on to a 20-year globetrotting career in TV news. In other posts, he has written about the double whammy of a colon cancer diagnosis and recurrence, the anger of living with a painful chronic illness, the cloak of invisibility conferred by a cane or a wheelchair, being doctored to death, abandoning the care of neurologists (until the stem cell trial), and the debilitating side effects from the string of approved MS treatments, leaving him legally blind and with an itchy skin condition. Yet, his prose rings with optimism and humor. “My daughter emailed that now Matt Lauer has more hair than I do,” he tweeted from @RMCJourneyMan. “It will grow back when I get off the freaking medication. Then watch out.” (Today Show, Journey Man)
Read other MS Research Roundups.