At last, there’s a likelihood for a more effective treatment for those suffering from fibromyalgia. A possible treatment that actually puts a stop to symptoms is on its way. It’s a most unexpected form but a familiar one to the medical community. The Bacille Calmett-Guerin vaccine or BCG is utilized to prevent tuberculosis infection. It has been used for a littleover a century and is still administered in some countries where a large number of cases of the disease still occur. In fact, the World Health Organization has included BCG on its list of essential medicines. For the most part, healthcare personnel administer the vaccine to children to immunize them against this disease.
Thus, one might wonder why and how this vaccine can be used to treat fibromyalgia. It all relates to the building of the body’s immunity and bringing back the balance that keeps it from acting against the body’s own cells.
Interestingly, BCG has also been utilized to treat bladder cancer and has been applied in clinical research of the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes and other autoimmune conditions. Although the studies, which span about ten years, have shown promise in fighting autoimmune maladies, it is not readily available in the U.S. because occurrences of tuberculosis are quite rare. Once available, however, the vaccine would give a less expensive yet more successful solution to the how fibromyalgia is treated.
The Study and Its Results
EpicGenetics partnered with Massachusetts General Hospital to conduct research on BCG and its potential for alleviating effects of autoimmune conditions. The end result in mind is to put an end to symptoms by reversing the defects that are present in the patient’s immune system who suffers from fibromyalgia.
To understand this hypothesis, one needs to look at the blood test that is applied specifically for the purpose of diagnosing of fibromyalgia. This very test has also served the impetus behind the research and picks up on any irregularity in the number of four distinct cytokines and chemokines. Cytokines directly impact how cells comingle with one another. Likewise, chemokines are a group of cytokines that contribute directly to inflammation and mobilize white blood cells. The number of both of these tend to run low in fibromyalgia patients as the results of the blood test would show.
How exactly does the vaccine come into play? According to Dr. Bruce Gillis, CEO of EpicGenetics, BCG would directly affect the number of cytokines and chemokines. This leads to Gillis’ hypothesis that the boost to these components might reverse the unwanted immune reaction.Their numbers would fall into normal range after the vaccine is given. In turn, symptoms could possibly dissipate because the disease itself would be treated and not just the pain and fatigue which are the traits that are manifested and therefore, easier to address.Such a discovery could radically change doctors’ approach to treating fibromyalgia to one that is far more potentwith possibly fewer side effects.
Impact on Treatment for Fibromyalgia
As mentioned, the application of the BCG vaccine, in theory, would change the body’s auto immune response if not stop it altogether which would be a far cry from the current treatment that mostly address symptoms. As an illustration, the most widely used treatment to date is an antidepressant such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline. Either one of these address the pain and insomnia that are associated with this condition. Still, these are just symptoms caused by a rebellion of the immune system—not the auto immune condition itself.
Other medications that are currently prescribed to alleviate include Cymbalta and Savelia which are also antidepressants. In relation to pain management, acetaminophen and NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin).Again, this illustrates the wide array of medications that are available, but doctors find themselves in the situation of having to “experiment” with one prescription or a combination that involves both pain management and the easing of other symptoms like persistent fatigue and/or restlessness. In other words, since every patient is different, not all of these medications and treatments work. Plus, one has side effects to worry about as well. Some of these include:
- Drowsiness, restlessness, or an alteration between the two
- Development of stomach ulcers
- Increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Liver damage
Plus, there’s the worry that the medication may “stop” working or not be as effective due to a patient’s higher tolerance level. Moreover, in the case of taking antidepressants, one has be quite vigilant of the impact they might have on one’s mental state. So this lifelong pattern, while bringing a nominal amount of relief, has to be maintained on a consistent basis. In contrast to this complex process of finding the right treatment using the current medical options, the treatment that involves the BCG vaccine may only require two doses. Because this vaccine has been used for so long to ward off other ailments, its effects are not a complete mystery.
Any Possible Side Effects
As with any other vaccine or medication, BCG might also have some side effects, such as temporary soreness at the injection site and mild flu-like symptoms. These are quite common with any vaccination and usually decrease in a matter of days or weeks. Likewise, one should consult with a physician is experiencing any of the following side effects for a week to ten days:
- Painful urination
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Redness at the injection site(though this usually shows up about ten days after receiving the vaccine but should dissipate over a period of six months or less)
A doctor should be contacted immediately if any of the following symptoms occur:
- Difficulty with swallowing or breathing
- Severe rash that won’t go away
Even still, the research team is moving forward with the next step to make this treatment available to fibromyalgia patients since the results indicate that the advantages would far outweigh any adverse effects.
Availability of Treatment
A research team from EpicGenetics, UCLA, and the University Of Illinois College Of Medicine are now in the process of obtaining FDA approval to conduct a study on approximately 250,000 human subjects to search for any genome anomalies. The subjects would have ideally taken the FM/a test and garnering a positive result for fibromyalgia. However, the cost of this test, which is $936 could be a hindrance if insurance companies won’t cover it. Consequently, this could possibly delay further research.
Moreover, pharmaceutical companies might not be so anxious to get on board due to the fact that the vaccine costs $20 to $25 for each dose. Again, as previously mentioned, a patient would only need one to two doses if the hypothesis is proven to be true. So the new treatment, while serving patients more effectively and efficiently, would not manifest much in the ways of profits for these companies.
Regardless of probable obstacles, this research looks very encouraging for many individuals who live with a combination of the symptoms of fibromyalgia and the side effects of the current medical treatments might also receive some hope for relief if not an actual reversal of the immune system’s irregularities which makes perseverance on the part of the research teams very important.