One Seattle-based technology recently revealed new clinical technology that could completely change the way multiple sclerosis is treated. The firm received $668,000 to develop an in-vitro blood barrier that mimics the human blood-brain barrier, an innovation that would make MS drug development more effective. Before going into the innovation and its implications, it is important to understand the current state of MS drug development.
MS Treatments Today
While there are numerous claims regarding MS treatment and "cures", most medical professionals end up prescribing some form of pharmaceutical to slow down or mitigate symptoms. Unfortunately, there are some significant limitations in creating MS medications right now.
One particular problem is that most drug companies are still relying on animal trials in order to develop drugs. Not only is there a moral grey area around drug testing on animals, the animal tests tend to not be very effective. While certain animals like mice have some similar structures to the human body, it is not enough to ensure that the results of the tests on animals will translate to human patients.
Another issue is that many clinical trials of MS drugs end in failure all too often. According to Kevin Banks, PhD and vice president of Nortis sales and marketing department, 4 out of 10 clinical trials end up failing by the third phase. Not only are these failures discouraging, they are also incredibly expensive for drug companies. If too much money is wasted on failed trials, there might not be enough money left to invest in other treatments.
What is the In Vitro Blood-Brain Barrier?
When looking at the problems pharmaceutical companies are facing in developing MS treatments, the question becomes how they are going to solve these problems. This is where the In Vitro Blood-Brain Barrier comes in.
Nortis has developed ParVivo, a proprietary 3D organ modeling system which regulates the biological structure of human organs to allow for more accurate in vitro testing (in vitro testing is testing done on microorganisms outside of their biological contexts).
You may be wondering what exactly a blood-brain barrier is. The blood-brain barrier is composed of endothelial tissue that protects the brain from foreign substances and helps maintain a constant environment. Unfortunately, this blood-brain barrier can also stop the drugs from getting into the brain, making them much less effective.
How does ParVivo help?
In order for MS drugs to be effective, they have to slow down neurodegeneration by getting directly into the brain. The blood-brain barrier stops that from happening, and Nortis kept this in mind when designing ParVivo. Banks claims that with ParVivo, researchers can develop far more complex tissue models compared to regular 3D printing techniques.
The system also has a feature Nortis calls perfusion capability. This is the ability to run a single analysis on the system while doing up to 72 tests at the same time. It also gives researchers the opportunity to do drug discovery and toxicity testing in-house instead of outsourcing it to other companies, saving them both time and money.
Banks says that multiple drug companies have taken an interest in their product, and some have even begun to adopt an early version of ParVivo to use in pharmaceutical testing. Nortis hopes that their new technology will lead to more efficacy in testing and development of neurological drugs. Nortis hopes that this will help companies get one step closer to developing treatments that can really help patients of MS and other similar disease.
Are There Other Options Than Drugs?
There are a lot of advantages in using drugs to treat MS, but a lot of patients wonder if there are any other options. With that in mind, here are a variety of ways that MS is treated other than the use of medications. Note however, that none of these treatments should be undertaken without first talking to your primary care physician. However, going into an appointment with knowledge of your options will lead to better discussions and better results.
Deep Brain Stimulation
Deep Brain Simulation is a procedure derived from old neurological surgeries called thalamotomy or pallidotomy. This surgery was mainly done to prevent tremors in people with MS, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases. Previously, doctors would perform brain surgery and destroy the thalamus or globus pallidus. These surgeries were very dangerous as any mistake could lead to paralysis, loss of vision, or loss of speech. Thankfully, modern deep brain stimulation is a much safer procedure with not as many risks. In the procedure, the tip of an electrode is placed near the thalamus in order to stimulate the area and prevent tremors and other MS symptoms.
For some MS patients, exchanging plasma (the liquid part of the blood) can have some great results. In some cases, exchanging plasma can remove some agents from the blood that are known to cause MS and its symptoms. However, there are downsides that come with this type of procedure. Plasma exchange involves taking blood samples, separating the plasma from the blood, combining the blood with new healthy plasma from a donor, and reinserting the blood back into the patient. As you can probably tell, this can be a very long and tedious process. There are also a few risks that go along with plasma exchanges. Some of these risks include infection, allergic reaction, and possible blood-clotting issues. Still, this could be a worthwhile avenue for those who aren't responding to common medications.
A very contentious but intriguing treatment for MS that has become more prevalent in recent years is the use of medical marijuana. Medical marijuana will not cure your MS, but preliminary studies show that it could help to relieve some common MS symptoms:
Stiffness or uncontrollable muscle movements -
Medical marijuana is known for reducing stiffness in the joints, improving the mobility of patients and helping patients move more freely. It also can calm and reduce muscle spasms.
Some MS patients complain that they have spasms that cause them to constantly need to pee. Medical marijuana can reduce spasms, making patient's bladders more under control.
Nerve pain -
Medical marijuana can be effective in reducing pain, particularly nerve pain in MS patients. This also leads to better sleep in the long run.
However, medical marijuana won't have these effects overnight. It will take a few days or a few weeks for your body to get used to the chemical and the effects it has on your body. Of course, this treatment is very location dependent, as medical marijuana is still not legal or available in all states.
This brand-new blood-brain barrier technology is huge for the MS community. Most of the current pharmaceuticals on the market are just not effective in treating and mitigating MS symptoms. If this new technology works, researchers would be able to have much more effective clinical trials in developing their drugs, which would probably lead to much better treatments in the near future. Of course, it is important for you to understand the other treatment options for MS aside from drugs, which we hope has become clearer within this article. For more information on MS treatments, symptoms, and other developments, be sure to check out the rest of our website.