Popular MS treatment may not prevent disability
  • Thu, 07/19/2012 - 3:54pm

A recent study indicates that interferon beta, the most common treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS), may not stop patients from developing the permanent disabilities the incurable autoimmune disease causes.

The study, conducted by University of British Columbia researchers and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared data from 868 MS patients taking interferon beta to 1,788 patients not taking the drug. Results showed that patients in both groups had an equal chance of experiencing long-term disability due to the disease.

According to WebMD, interferon beta mirrors the natural interferon that the immune system makes when reacting to a disease. Studies have shown that the drug stops inflammation and the destruction of myelin in nerve cells, and it decreases the activity of gamma interferon, a protein that can further exacerbate MS.

Patients with MS often relapse after periods of either partial or full recovery. Life expectancy varies, but most people live for decades with minimal disability.

Multiple sclerosis affects the brain and the spinal cord, both of which use an intricate network of nerve cells to communicate, according to MedicineNet. These nerve cells, also referred to as neurons, are insulated by a layer of myelin sheath that aids in conduction, a process through which important information travels from neuron to neuron.

MedineNet states that the myelin sheath in MS patients begins to dissipate when the nerve cell becomes inflamed. This slows the speed of conduction and damaging the nerve cell. As more neurons degenerate, a patient’s sight, written and verbal communication, maneuverability and memory – everyday functions that the brain and spinal cord control – become impaired.

Although the study suggests that interferon beta treatment has little or no effect on the progression of disabilities associated with MS, Helen Tremlett, associate professor of neurology at the University of British Columbia and senior author of the study, said “These drugs were licensed because they reduce relapse and have a better outcome with lesions. That has not changed.”

Previous studies have indicated that interferon beta can stop the onset of disability in MS patients, but some experts still find the results of this recent study disconcerting.

“It is a little dispiriting to see this well-designed, well-conducted assessment showing no association between reduction of disability progression and interferon use,” said Dr. Claire Riley, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinical Care & Research Center at Columbia University. “But the key is that all MS is not created equal, and now we have eight approved drugs in four different classes that allow us to better react to patients who are not having a response to therapy.”


About the Contributor

Jessica Davids
I report on FDA developments and new pharmaceutical launches, risks, and safety concerns.

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