Searching for the Cause and Cure of MS

Dr. Saud Sadiq and the Tisch MS Research Center of New York
by Terry Mapes

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects 2.5 million people worldwide, including 400,000 Americans. The National Institutes of Health describes MS as a nervous-system disease impacting the brain and spinal cord. It damages the myelin sheath, the material that surrounds and protects nerve cells, often leading to irreversible degeneration of the nerve cells themselves. This damage slows down or blocks messages between the brain and body, causing a variety of disabling and sometimes painful symptoms, including blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis and blindness.

MS is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the patient’s own immune system attacks the nerve tissue. There is no full understanding of the cause and mechanism of the disease, and while a variety of effective treatments have been shown to reduce some symptoms, and, in some cases, arrest the progress of the disease, so far there is no cure. However, at the Tisch Multiple Sclerosis Research Center of New York (Tisch MSRCNY), director Saud Sadiq, MD, and his team are tirelessly at work trying to track down answers and a cure.

An independent, private, nonprofit research entity dedicated exclusively to research into the cause, treatment and remedy of MS, Tisch MSRCNY grew out of the former MS Research and Treatment Center at New York’s St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital Center. Together with their clinical affiliate, the International Multiple Sclerosis Management Practice (IMSMP), the facility devotes approximately 35,000 square feet to the latest in research equipment and technology designed to accelerate the pace of MS research, treatment and care. The close relationship of the research center and the clinical practice speeds the translation of basic science into clinical practice and helps to test new treatments for MS. Tisch MSRCNY is supported entirely by grants and private philanthropy, and is the only center of its kind in the world.

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Q&A with Massimiliano Cristofanilli, PhD, assistant research scientist, Tisch MSRCNY
by Liz Belilovskaya

Brain World: Although symptoms of MS can occasionally get better, with progressive/secondary MS they rarely do. Is that correct?

Massimiliano Cristofanilli: I would say that if a patient gets diagnosed now, in 2012, they have a nice chance of living a normal life…With progressive MS, it’s not so much a matter of whether the symptoms get better or worse; it’s that you have loss of neural tissue, which normally doesn’t happen.

Nonprogressive multiple sclerosis deals with demyelination. That is when the myelin, the neuron’s insulation, is lost around the axon, resulting in an interruption of neural connection; the information being carried through it is improperly transported from neural cell to neural cell. This can be repaired, which is what remission means. There are drugs that can keep the disease at bay, providing time for the brain to repair itself.

In secondary relapse/progressive MS, there’s a loss of myelin around the axons, and over time a loss of the axon itself. This is what’s called neural tissue loss. Currently, there are no drugs that can repair this; so we don’t really have a good way to manage progressive patients. This is where stem-cell trials come in, and that whole line of treatment for progressive MS.

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