The Animal Nature of MS


The Journal Nature is one of the worlds most prestigious rags and perhaps in preparation for MS Awareness Week (30th April 2012) They have produced a special supplement on Multiple Sclerosis

This supplement describes the genetics (a complex code), diagnosis (getting a clear picture), the causation (The X factor)  and the drugs (injections of hope-are they worth the risk?), stem cells (don’t believe the hype), progressive MS (the treatment gap)  and the weird and wacky aspects of alternatives therapies (desperate measures) of worms, stents and supplements and of course animal models (not close enough).

I can’t provide details of this article, but it is about as worthwhile as a pork sausage at a Jewish Wedding 🙂

Although not perhaps the fault of the journalist who wrote the piece, without an understanding of the complexities of MS, this article follows familiar territory of half truths and an blinkered approach, as said time and time before. It is much easier to criticise the animal model rather than the way that people use and interpret data from them. I do not think that EAE is MS and it has a lot to answer, but MS researchers and MS clinicians need to think a bit more about what is being done in animal experiments and then what is being shown.

“If we are to believe the headlines, multiple sclerosis (MS) has been cured many times over”

Yes , but who creates the headlines? I am afraid it is the media departments of universities (and researchers (who want to secure more grants and up the importance of their work) who have often never met someone with MS or thought about what MS really is and blindly follow dogma of the scientific establishment) and there are Journalists who are spinning a story without real critical appraisal of what is actually being shown. Scientists have a lot to answer for over the hype. This has fuelled false or unrealistic expectations. An example of this would be stem cells

On the blog I choose not to publish every wondercure that is published daily based on animal studies, because this is often a million miles or at least 10 years from the reality of a treatment of MS. 

“They are drugs that that could block the progression of the disease in mice, but such stories have been appearing for decades, so why is there still no cure for human MS?”

Progression in MS is a concept that, many people doing research on MS or should I doing research on immunobiology (the majority of EAEologists) using MS models, do not really understand. I believe this because many people think that MS is just autoimmunity and autoimmunity is everything. They use “progression” as a buzz word because there is no treatment of progressive MS…yet. Even in known autoimmunity in EAE, progressive disability occurs that is not dependent on autoimmunity. Until the reader takes this on board and realise that you treat a disease and not just a mechanism there will be just more bad science. 

One of the commentators selected to comment in the article is a well known critic of animals, who slates animal studies for a number of reasons. “Even the success stories sometimes have a dark side. The drug natalizumab, for example, which can reduce relapses and slow the progression of disability in human MS, was temporarily withdrawn from the market when some patients developed a potentially fatal brain infection not seen in the animal model”.

This type of comment is just bonkers and is made by someone who has no concept of undertaking animal experiments. One could equally critise MS clinicians who have thrown away potentially useful drugs because they don’t know how to do clinical trials properly….but I don’t 🙂

Laboratory animals are clean of infection (because that is a requirement of using them in experiments) and you never use a 1000 animals (risk of brain infection was 1 in 1000) in an experiment so why would it spot this, for something that often takes 2 years (the average life time of a mouse) of treatment to find. The commentator thinks that stopping some cells going in brain verses spinal fluid etc, etc, is the way to go, but his research interest is protein (chemokines) that are involved in getting different cell types in to different tissues…….so no conflict there then?

I could go on and on-maybe I have!. Read our article of Critical Appraisal of Animal Models if you want my take. There are other views also.

If you wrap a pile of dog pooh in a sexy mechanism, the scientific establishment lap it up. This is because the establishment think that quality is in a mechanism, forgetting biology is not always simple. However it is still just dog pooh in the centre. 

Dog Pooh is not the type of solution we need. However some of you will tell me if is contains parasitic worm eggs, which it can do, that WORMS are the solution :-), studies are ongoing……

There are MSologists = people who study MS, EAEologists=people who study EAE and ThEAEologists= people who believe that EAE is MS..we know it is not :-)!

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  • Such a shame progressive MS remains an untreatable mystery. Judging from your survey results above, most MSers will settle for a flatlining of their progressive disability (which seems wishful thinking at present), although a surprising number have voted for a complete reversal of their disability. It seems MSers have a hard time understanding how they can go from being mobile to being disabled without prospect of thing getting back to normal.

  • Prof G will plot and comment on the results in next few days.

    A complete reversal is going to need anti-inflammatory, neuroprotection and then repair strategies and the hope that the irreversible damage is not too advanced. This is a very hard ask given that we have not yet shown we can slow the rate of progression.

  • MD, what then is, in terms of MS treatment, not a hard task?

    As somebody suffering from PPMS, I often wish I had RRMS, at least that way it would feel like somebody is doing something to help me,even if it is all smoke and mirrors because, from what I've read, the drugs for RRMS are pretty toxic and not very good.

  • When the videos are online from the MS Society (they say within a week or so), I think that Prof G spoke at MS life to your very point about activity aimed at PPMS.

    Drugs that are active in RRMS do exist and many more are on the horizon, some in more in the very near future. The very effective ones carry risks but it is not right to say that they are not very good.

    Likewise it is not correct to say there is no activity in PPMS

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