Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients sometimes experience “natural” improvements in disability at least over the short term, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.
The study, published this month in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, is the first to quantify improvements in disability in patients who are not taking immunomodulatory drugs such as beta interferon drugs or glatiramer acetate.
“Many people assume that MS patients experience only disease progression and an increasing disability,” says Helen Tremlett, the study’s lead author, an associate professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine. “While we did observe that no change or a worsening in disability was most common, up to 30 per cent of patients did experience an improvement, and this was often sustained over one to two years.”
While there were some patient characteristics more associated with a greater chance of improvement – including being female, younger, and having the relapse-remitting form of the disease – a wide spectrum of patients experienced episodes of improvement.
“To date, there are no disease modifying drugs for MS that have gained licensed approval for specifically improving or reducing disability in MS,” adds Prof. Tremlett, who is also a member of the Brain Research Centre at UBC and VCH Research Institute. “However, we know that these drugs can be very helpful in reducing relapses, so our research provides additional important context for interpreting the findings of clinical trials.”
Further research is needed to understand the biological mechanisms underlying these improvements in order to pinpoint possible drug targets, and to determine the potential capacity for drug intervention to enhance and prolong this natural, innate improvement for the benefit of patients.