Healthy Living

The Potential for Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

The Potential for Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

A USA Today article published in 2013 highlighted how multiple sclerosis (MS) in children can often be worse than MS in adults. A jump in childhood MS diagnoses has made this field a more popular area of research. In 2001 the MS definition changed to allow for inclusion of patients under the age of 15. This meant that children could receive the diagnosis. Since then, 8,000 children in the world have been diagnosed with MS.

The article describes the experience of a few children who were diagnosed with MS. One was a 12-year-old boy named Peter Marggraf from Newfields, N.H who was brought to the hospital because he had suddenly started to speak in a strange manner, and then his face went blank. After 10 days in Boston Children’s Hospital the healthcare team still did not know what was happening. Another 12-year-old, Victoria Esselman of Medford Massachusetts, had a first episode that encompassed a tingling sensation in her right arm that lasted for months. Then her mother Odette Esselman noticed that her eyes started moving in different directions. After going to Mass General Hospital, she was diagnosed with MS.

For children, a prognosis such as this can be even worse than it is for adults who are more commonly affected by MS. MS episodes in children tend to be a bit worse, and they also have many more years ahead of them for decline. Though MS is rare in children, pediatric MS awareness is increasing. So far, the youngest child who has been diagnosed was 20 months old.

The field of pediatric MS research has advanced

Lauren Krupp, a neurologist and director of the Lourie Center for Pediatric MS at Stony Brook University in Long Island, N.Y. explains how the field has advanced since changing the definition in 2001. Drug companies are now able to start clinical trials with children and there are nine centers in the US that are sharing data and advice regarding treatment. Researchers such as Krupp believe that studying children will help them identify what environmental triggers are contributing to the disease, as well as help them identify appropriate treatments. Krupp says that, “There is reason to believe that a lot of the factors leading to MS are going to be the same in kids and adults, but you can find it more readily in the kids. If you have a 6-year-old, you've got a lot better chance of sorting out what the risk factors are (than with a 46-year-old), because they've just been exposed to them.” It’s logical.

Definitive triggers have not been identified, but researchers and healthcare professionals have their suspicions. Neurologist Tanuja Chitnis, and director of the pediatric MS center at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston says that evidence has been indicating that obesity, exposure to second-hand smoke, a family history of autoimmune diseases, and exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus early on may contribute to MS development. It is possible that the genetic causes of the disease could be either the same or different between children and adults.

Read on to learn more about medication for pediatric MS.