Can MS-related damage be prevented?

Finding ways to protect the nerves and brain from the damage caused by MS is a major area of research. New developments include:

"Reprogramming" the immune system. Much work has been done on finding ways to "reprogram" the immune system for people with MS so it does not attack the brain and nerves. Areas being investigated include:

  • increasing the levels of a type of cell called regulatory T cells, which could improve the immune system's ability to keep tabs on itself, making it less likely to go out of control and attack the nerves and brain
  • finding new ways to block the movement and communication of immune system cells
  • using antibodies (special proteins in the immune system) to temporarily block unwanted immune system activity

Protecting nerve cells. Researchers are looking into a variety of ways to help preserve nerve cells whose myelin has already been damaged, including:

  • using myelin associated glycoprotein (MAG), an ingredient of myelin, to help protect the nerve fibres
  • fixing abnormalities in the sodium channels (tiny holes in the outside of the nerve fibres that are involved in communication) to prevent further damage
  • blocking the actions of nitric oxide, a chemical in the body that is believed to play a role in MS-related nerve damage

Using hormones to protect against MS-related damage. A recent study looked at men with relapsing-remitting MS who had lower-than-average testosterone levels. The men were given the male hormone testosterone. After 12 months of treatment, the men had improvements in a test of processing speed and memory. In their last 9 months of treatment, their rate of brain atrophy (shrinkage) decreased by 67%. A study is also underway in women - this study will examine the effects of the female hormone estriol on MS.

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