There may be new hope that an unlikely vaccine could someday aid in the development of a Multiple Sclerosis Cure. Researchers have discovered that a tuberculosis (TB) vaccine may help prevent the development of multiple sclerosis (MS). TB is a disease of the respiratory system and MS is a disease of the central nervous system. Italian researchers injected a TB vaccine in individuals who had a first episode of MS symptoms that indicated they might develop MS. They observed that the TB vaccine lowered the odds of developing MS.
According to Dr. Giovanni Ristori, of the Center for Experimental Neurological Therapies at Sant’Andrea Hospital in Rome and study lead, “It is possible that a safe, handy and cheap approach will be available immediately following the first episode of symptoms suggesting MS”. However, the researchers cautioned that more research is required before the TB vaccine can be used against MS.
In MS, the immune system attacks healthy cells of the central nervous system including the brain and spinal cord. One of the first symptoms of MS is referred to as “clinically isolated syndrome.” These symptoms include numbness, tingling sensations and problems with vision, hearing and balance. Ristori notes that around half of the patients who experience clinically isolated syndrome develop MS within two years.
The current study included 73 patients who had clinically isolated syndrome. Thirty-three of these patients received the TB vaccine and 40 were given a placebo (dummy injection). The TB vaccine they used was the Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine. The same vaccine is also being studied as a therapy for diabetes type 1.
MRI scans were done on the brains of participants on a monthly basis for the first six months. Researchers were looking for lesions associated with MS. For the next year, participants received interferon beta-1a. Beyond this, patients received therapies recommended by their own neurologist. Patients were reexamined after 5 years to see if they had developed MS.
Researchers found an average of eight brain lesions after the first six months in participants that received the dummy injection (placebo). This is a potential sign of MS development. Participants who received the TB vaccine presented with on the average three lesions. Seventy percent of the placebo patients developed MS after five years as compared to 42 percent that received the TB vaccine. The researchers reported no major side effects during the study.
Ristori is uncertain as to how the vaccine is at protecting against MS, and the research is far too new to see a direct path towards a Multiple Sclerosis cure, however, he feels there are complex, multiple effects on brain inflammation. Since the lesions were reduced in patients who were vaccinated, Ristori suggests that the vaccine may be useful for patients who already have MS.
Other researchers believe this study lends support to the “hygiene hypothesis.” This hypothesis suggests that a lack of childhood infections may affect the development of the immune system, and vaccinating with a live vaccine may help induce protective immunity against MS.
According to Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of health care delivery and policy research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the current study is the latest in a number of studies that have looked at environmental factors that contribute to MS development. “What we’re learning is that the immune system isn’t a self-contained entity, but that it has a lot of interactions with other things in the body. This study adds to what we know about MS, but it’s just one piece of a big puzzle.”
Editorial authors suggest that the TB vaccine not be used to treat clinically isolated syndrome or full-blown MS simply because long-term safety and effectiveness is unknown at this time.
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