MS Good News Report: The Latest Research through June 2020

A monthly MS research report with a positive angle.


Using DMTs won’t lead to more severe COVID-19 in people with MS

People with MS who take disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) have been especially concerned about how severe their reactions might be in the event they contract COVID-19. The good news is, severe outcomes to COVID-19 are not specifically associated with the use of DMTs.

Researchers examined people with MS, looking at age, disability scores, and obesity as risk factors for COVID-19 severity in conjunction with DMT use.

They found no increased risk for a severe outcome to COVID-19 in those using DMTs.

The factors more likely to lead to a higher risk of severe COVID-19 include older age and higher score on the EDSS (expanded disability status scale). This is consistent with the risk factors among those in the general population.1


Is MS stealing your sleep? Online insomnia therapies can help

If you’re among the 40 percent of people with MS who struggle to sleep at night due to chronic insomnia, you may find support and relief in the use of digital CBT-i.2

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

CBT-I stands for cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. It is now considered the gold standard for treating chronic sleeplessness, more effective than taking sleep medications, which aren’t typically meant for long-term, regular use.3

In this study, people with MS were placed in six-week CBT-I programs accessible through the Internet. Results confirmed that participation in CBT-I led to “significant improvement in insomnia severity, sleep quality, anxiety, and sleep self-efficacy.”

Those who received biweekly support phone calls also enjoyed improvements in their depression and fatigue symptoms.2


An apple a day could help people with MS?

New research from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia suggests that a compound found in the skins of apple could be turned into a drug that might reverse or alleviate the damage caused by MS.4

The compound, known as ursolic acid, is also found in pear peels. When it was given in concentration to paralyzed mouse models, some of the mice were found to walk again.

Promising results for mobility

The results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this year, described the mice as walking again “albeit haltingly… In human terms, this would be the equivalent of continuing to walk with a stick instead of needing a wheelchair.”5

Sounds miraculous, but the researchers offer this caveat: While these findings don’t necessarily mean human subjects will respond in precisely the same way if given a safe treatment using ursolic acid, the researchers do think it could significantly improve the quality of life for people with MS.


New therapy may boost neuroplasticity in people with MS

Constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT) describes physical therapy techniques used to improve the function of the extremities following neurodegeneration caused by stroke or MS-related demyelination.6

Recent studies of progressive MS patients have shown through imaging that neuroplasticity improved in those who use CIMT as an intervention at least 3.5 hours a week.

What's neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to form and organize neural connections in the central nervous system (CNS).

At the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) 2020 virtual meeting, findings from this research suggest that using CIMT can “significantly stimulate cortical neuroplasticity” and that these improvements may last as much as one year following completion of the therapy.

Rehabilitation specialist Patricia Bobryk commented that “this is exciting initial work in terms of MS …If we're trying to find new avenues in the brain for better pathways, rather than using something that's damaged in MS, it makes perfect sense that CIMT really forces and drives those connections.”7


Astrocytes created from stem cells

The star-shaped cells which make up at least half of the central nervous system are vital for supporting neurons. They assist with inflammation signaling, regulate brain circuitry, help with metabolism, and oversee blood flow in the blood-brain barrier.

Unfortunately, in disease states like MS, astrocytes can “go rogue” and destroy neurons.

To better understand how and why this happens, the New York Stem Cell Foundation has successfully created astrocytes from human stem cells.

Previously, mouse models are used for astrocyte research. However, many aspects of human astrocyte function are not fully captured through the use of lab rodents.

The Foundation’s goal is to study these human-generated cells to more accurately track their relationship to neurodegeneration.8


MS drug research updates, in brief

Despite troubling delays in some MS drug research, June 2020 still brings some good news:9,10

  • June 17: Five MS patients taking teriflunomide (Aubagio) experienced a mild course of COVID-19 ending in a favorable outcome and zero relapses
  • June 12: The FDA approved intravenous inebilizumab (Uplizna), a second option for treating the MS cousin, neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD)

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