MS Research Spotlight: 1 in 5 Misdiagnosed with MS, Brain Training and Memory & More

MS Research Spotlight covers key research news from the past two weeks.

Study finds that many people diagnosed with MS do not have the condition

APRIL 22, 2019 || Medical News Today

A stunning statistic in recent research coming out of UCLA and the University of Vermont in Burlington finds that nearly 1 in 5 people who have been diagnosed with MS may actually be misdiagnosed and have other unrelated conditions.1,2

Stroke, fibromyalgia, vitamin B12 deficiency, and migraine are just some of the main conditions which were considered correct diagnoses in people who were misdiagnosed with MS. In some cases, those who were incorrectly diagnosed had received 4 years of MS treatment before being correctly diagnosed with a different condition.

The researchers looked at 241 cases of MS diagnosis to arrive at this observation. They concluded that “the estimated costs of unnecessary treatments that they identified in just this study reached almost $10 million.”

UCLA’s Dr. Marwa Kaisey, lead researcher on the study, told Medical News Today: "I've seen patients suffering side effects from the medication they were taking for a disease they didn't have. Meanwhile, they weren't getting treatment for what they did have. The cost to the patient is huge—medically, psychologically, financially."1,2

Repeated working memory training improves task performance and neural efficiency

APRIL 16, 2019 || Multiple Sclerosis International

A new study by Aguirre, et al. explored whether cognitive training among people with MS using “n-back” tasks could improve their task performance.3

N-back tasks, first introduced by Wayne Kirchner in 1958, are continuous performance tasks used in measuring working memory (WM).4

The researchers match 29 MS patients with 29 health controls to undergo different kinds of training, then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor their brain activity during these sessions.

Results: “In post-training and follow-up fMRI sessions, trained groups… exhibited significant reaction time reductions and increases in Correct Responses during [n-back] performance. This improvement of task performance was accompanied by a decrease in brain activation in the WM frontoparietal network. The two effects were significantly correlated,” showing that it is possible for a person with MS to improve one’s cognitive and WM task performance through “neuroplastic processes” that show the brain can indeed be retrained to more efficiently process memory.3,4

New high-risk pilot projects explore probiotics, virtual reality, and repairing MS damage

APRIL 12, 2019 || National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS)

Fourteen high-risk pilot research grants just received committed funding of $750,000 from the NMSS to more quickly answer novel questions about the disease.5

For instance, new projects include:

  • studying cholesterol-like molecules which might facilitate myelin repair
  • comparative research concerning prebiotics versus probiotics to better understand how changes to the gut microbiome can influence MS disease activity
  • new uses for virtual reality to reduce pain by way of distraction
  • unpacking the way in which tai chi and mindfulness meditation training can address balance issues in people with MS
  • targeted research looking at people with MS from different ethnic backgrounds to better characterize and represent all the genetic and environmental factors that might play a part in causing MS or fueling its progression.

A previous pilot project identified the way in which upper respiratory infections can modify brain cell activity in people with MS. As a result, its researchers earned a new NMSS-supported research grant to further explore these biological pathways, looking at antiviral medications in mice with EAE (the animal equivalent of MS).5

Bowel symptoms predate the diagnosis among many patients with MS

APRIL 8, 2019 || Neurogastroenterology & Motility

While a “demyelination event” typically marks the onset of an MS diagnosis (referenced as clinically isolated syndrome, or CIS, prior to a second event), scientists aim to identify pre-diagnostic, or prodromal, markers for MS.6

Researchers conducted a retrospective study that followed 385 MS patients with reported bowel problems over 14 years. They found that nearly a third of them reported bowel symptoms prior to their diagnostic demyelination event. Half of them reported problems with constipation, while just under 30 percent reported diarrhea as their main bowel symptom prior to diagnosis.

That average time between bowel symptoms and MS diagnosis was around 3.5 years, and other accompanying symptoms pre-diagnosis included fatigue and sensory disturbances.6

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