According to a Canadian study published in Archives of Neurology, an experimental DNA vaccine called BHT-3009 appears to have produced positive changes in the immune systems and brains of subjects suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS).
Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative neurological disease that causes a variety of problems such as blurred vision, balance and co-ordination problems, and can also lead to blindness and paralysis. Although the exact cause of MS remains unknown, it is widely thought to be rooted in both environmental and genetic factors. The immune system of individuals with MS actually attacks myelin, a fatty protein that covers and protects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Antibodies specifically target myelin proteins as though they were malignant agents.
A team of Montreal researchers administered the DNA vaccine BHT-3009, which incorporates the DNA sequence of myelin basic protein into cells, to 30 individuals suffering from multiple sclerosis over a period of two years. The subjects had either relapsing-remitting MS, characterized by active periods and periods of remission, or secondary progressive MS, characterized by an aggravation of symptoms as well as periods of remission.
Researchers noted that the vaccine was both safe and well tolerated by these patients. They also observed the vaccine’s positive effects on the brain. More specifically, there was a decrease in the number and volume of lesions. Beneficial changes in the immune system were also noted, manifested as a decrease in the number of CD4+ T cells, a type of white blood cells that target myelin proteins.
Compared to the subjects who had received the placebo, patients who had received the vaccine did not experience any adverse effects, nor was there acceleration in the deterioration of their condition. According to researchers, these first results are very encouraging but it is much too early to draw definite conclusions on the efficacy of the BHT-3009 vaccine. A larger, second phase of the study is currently underway and should offer more data on the long-term efficacy and innocuity of this new vaccine.
Fantastic advances were made in MS research this summer. Scientific discoveries brought about a whole new level of understanding and potential treatments for multiple sclerosis. May there be many more to come!