What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs or severe -- paralysis or loss of vision. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40 but the unpredictable physical and emotional effects can be lifelong. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are giving hope to those affected by the disease. Please help us cure this physically and emotionally devastating disease!
Where does the money go?
The MARS Foundation.... truly gives 100% of the profits earned to real medical research! Over the last few years the MARS Foundation has given in excess of $100,000 to various research projects, some of which are the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and Rocky Mt. MS Clinic in Colorado. The last few years 100% of our money has been given to the National MS Society.
Who is on the Board of Directors?
The MARS Foundation board of directors are volunteers from the Midwest that are directly or indirectly affected by multiple sclerosis. They are committed to making sure the maximum amount of profits go to medical research for MS.
Do you always provide funds to the same researchers?
We always consider worthwhile candidates for additional research funds. To see our latest candidates or recipients click here.
Is there a way to combat the fatigue related to MS?
There's good news for people with multiple sclerosis. Exercise and yoga help relieve the awful fatigue that often plagues multiple sclerosis patients. The finding comes from a study reported at this week's meeting of the American Academy of Neurology held in Honolulu, Hawaii. Barry Oken, MD, a neurology professor at Oregon Health & Sciences University, led a research team that worked with 69 MS patients. The patients drew random assignments. Some patients got no assistance. Some got weekly exercise classes on a stationary bike, with home exercise. And some got a weekly class in Iyengar yoga, with home practice. Iyengar yoga stresses a series of yoga postures, particularly standing ones. Unlike more strict regimens, it lets people use props -- such as chairs and belts -- that help them get into proper yoga positions. The multiple sclerosis patients who didn't get exercise or yoga were put on a waiting list and offered classes after the study. "There was a significant improvement in fatigue for the two intervention groups when compared to the waiting-list group," Oken says in a news release. Oken is director of the OHSU Oregon Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Neurological Disorders. Neither yoga nor exercise improved mental function, however.
Delay in Treatment?
For people with multiple sclerosis (MS), a delay in treatment allows the disease to worsen. A new study looks at treatment for relapsing-remitting MS, a form of the neurological disorder that involves acute attacks followed by recovery periods. Those patients who didn't start drug therapy immediately -- who waited nine months after diagnosis -- accumulated new lesions in their brains, writes researcher Jerry S. Wolinsky, MD, director of the MS Research Group at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. His study appears in this month's edition of Neurology. In his 18-month study, Wolinsky randomly assigned 224 MS patients to receive either the drug Copaxone or a placebo soon after diagnosis for the following nine months. Then all patients were given the active drug for the next nine months. Teva Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Copaxone, supported this work. "Over the entire 18 months of the study there were 35% fewer enhancing lesions among the patients who started drug therapy early," he says in a news release. His study also finds that the group of patients receiving drug therapy continuously had 23% fewer relapses compared with the group who started active treatment nine months later.
There is new evidence linking the virus that causes mononucleosis with an increased risk for multiple sclerosis, but experts say it is unlikely that Epstein-Barr virus infection alone triggers the degenerative nerve disease. "Epstein-Barr virus [EBV] is intriguing, but it is not the whole story," National Multiple Sclerosis Society spokeswoman Patricia O'Looney, MD, tells WebMD. "EBV is very common, with 95% of people becoming infected by age 40. Obviously if it were a simple association, a lot more people might have MS." Researchers have searched for decades for a viral or bacterial cause for multiple sclerosis, which affects some 350,000 Americans and causes symptoms ranging from slight numbness to complete paralysis. Fifteen months ago, researchers from Harvard University School of Public Health used blood samples taken from more than 60,000 women to show a link between the common herpes virus, EBV, and multiple sclerosis. Those who later developed MS had significantly higher levels of EBV antibodies in their blood than a comparison group of women who did not get the disease. The researchers used a similar design in their latest study, but this time they analyzed blood samples collected from more than 3 million active duty and reservist military personnel. Samples were collected between 1988 and 2000, and 83 cases of multiple sclerosis were later identified through disability records. The findings are reported in the March 26 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. The average time between collection of blood samples and the diagnosis of MS was four years -- roughly two years longer than in the previous study. And just as in that study, antibody levels to EBV were consistently higher among the MS patients than among study participants without the disease. "To me, these data strongly point to some sort of causal relationship between EBV and MS," lead author Alberto Ascherio, MD, tells WebMD. "But this is a very controversial topic, and people are very skeptical because there have been claims about different infectious agents in the past." Ascherio says more evidence of a link can be found in research suggesting that people who avoid EBV infection don't get MS. And he says there is nothing contradictory in the fact that EBV is so common and MS is relatively rare. "It seems analogous to smoking and lung cancer," he says. "Only a small percentage of smokers get lung cancer, yet we know there is a causal association between the two." But O'Looney, who is director of biomedical research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says much more study is needed to confirm an association between EBV and MS. "You certainly can't say from this research, or earlier research, that EBV causes MS," she says. "We know that there is a genetic component involved, and there may be multiple viral or bacterial triggers that could be different for different people. It is just too soon to say."
Interferon treatments may have become the new standard of care for many multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in the last decade, but a new review of research shows little is known about the long-term effects of the popular drugs. Researchers say the review of interferon-based treatments for relapsing remitting MS shows they slightly reduce the number of flare-ups or relapses of the disease during the first year of treatment. But the studies do not show that the drugs have are effective beyond that point. Five drugs (Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone, Novantrone, and Rebif) have been approved to treat MS in the U.S. The drugs are thought reduce exacerbations of the disease by slowing the immune system's attack on the nervous system that occurs in people with MS. But researchers say it's not clear whether the drugs actually prevent disease progression or if their benefits can be sustained over time. In addition, the drugs are expensive, and some patients can't tolerate the side effects, such as flu-like symptoms and, in some cases, hair loss, blood cell abnormalities, and depression. The study, published in the Feb. 15 issue of The Lancet, reviewed seven specific studies of recombinant interferons in MS patients that were published between 1993 and 2002. In the studies, 667 patients were followed for one year and 919 patients were followed for two years. Researchers found that interferon seemed to reduce the number of flare-ups during the first year by 27%, but because many patients dropped out of the studies it was difficult to determine the drugs' effectiveness of reducing the flare-ups after two years of treatment. But in those who were followed for two-years, treatment produced a 30% reduction in the risk of disease progression. Graziella Filippini, MD, of the National Neurological Institute in Milan, Italy, and colleagues say about 20% of the patients in these studies had to be excluded from their analysis due to insufficient information. They say future studies of interferon therapy should be better designed and include more detailed data on the nature of flare-ups that patients experience while on the drugs and how the treatment affects their overall quality of life.
Researchers have presented the first human findings looking at a cholesterol-lowering drug for multiple sclerosis treatment. They found that Zocor not only reduces the size but also the number of brain lesions from MS. In multiple sclerosis, cells in the immune system destroy the protective lining -- called myelin -- of nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Animal research touting cholesterol-lowering drugs called "statins" as a multiple sclerosis treatment hit the scene just last year, and the research has quickly moved from mice to humans. In a recent animal study, researchers found that Lipitor -- another statin -- prevented disease progression and reversed paralysis in mice with a multiple sclerosis-like disease. In the current study, Timothy Vollmer, MD, and colleagues studied 28 people with the most common form of multiple sclerosis, called relapsing-remitting -- in which periods of relapse, when symptoms flare up, alternate with periods of remission, when symptoms fade. Vollmer, chairman of the division of neurology at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, presented the results in Honolulu at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurology. The study participants -- aged 18 to 55 -- had evidence of at least one brain lesion from multiple sclerosis on an MRI brain scan. Each participant then took 80 mg of Zocor daily and underwent a series of MRI brain scans during the study. The study was supported by Merck Inc., Zocor's manufacturer. Six months into treatment, the researchers found that the number of brain lesions was reduced by 43%. In addition, the researchers projected that Zocor would decrease the annual rate of relapses from 43% before treatment to 32% after treatment. Zocor as a multiple sclerosis treatment was well tolerated by the patients, Vollmer says. "No patient stopped due to side effects." When used to lower cholesterol, Zocor and other statins can occasionally raise liver enzymes -- indicating that the drug may be harming the liver. In this study, two of the patients had mildly elevated liver tests, which resolved after stopping the drug, says Vollmer. Vollmer says he believes Zocor and other statins may work by suppressing an overactive part of the immune system.
A promising experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) and Crohn's disease may be one step closer to reality for people who suffer from these mysterious and hard-to-treat diseases. New research on the drug called natalizumab shows it dramatically slows the progression of MS as well as prevents relapses of both MS and Crohn's disease. The findings, published in the Jan. 2 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, show the drug reduced the formation of new brain lesions in MS patients by about 90%. Researchers say that's significantly greater than the 50% to 80% reductions achieved with currently available beta-interferon treatments. Inflammation in the brain and spinal cord caused by these lesions are a hallmark of MS, which impairs the function of the brain and spinal cord. Another study in the same journal found that natalizumab -- which has been given the brand name Antegren but isn't yet approved by the FDA -- increased the rates of disease remission and improved the quality of life of people with Crohn's disease. The condition causes inflammation in the small intestine and leads to symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain. Both diseases are known as autoimmune diseases because they are caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking tissues in the body. Although animal tests and smaller, human studies of the drug produced promising results in treating MS, until now the long-term effects of the drug were unknown. In the first study, researchers gave the participants a low or high dose of the drug or a placebo. They found the number of new brain abnormalities was dramatically lower in the treatment groups compared with those given the placebo. An average of about 10 new lesions per patient were reported in the placebo group compared with only 0.7 and 1.1 new lesions in the two treatment groups. In addition, about twice as many patients in the placebo groups had relapses of their disease compared with those who received natalizumab. Both treatment groups also reported an improvement in well-being while those who did not receive the drug said they felt slightly worse. In the second study, a group of European researchers analyzed the effects of the drug in 248 people with moderate-to-severe Crohn's disease. The participants received a high or low dose of natalizumab or a placebo. Researchers found the quality of life improved in all the patients who received the drug compared with those who did not, and both groups that got two doses of the drug had higher disease remission rates than those who received the placebo. The researchers say the drug was well tolerated in patients involved in both studies. In an editorial that accompanies the results, Ulrich H. von Andrian, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, and colleagues write that the drug may lead to improvements in the treatment of other autoimmune disorders such as ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as related conditions such as asthma and heart disease. But the editorialists say that larger numbers of patients will need to be treated with natalizumab for longer periods of time to determine whether resistance to the drug may develop
Melissa Sherak Resnick has had multiple sclerosis for 15 years and is now seven months pregnant with her second child. Like most women with MS, the 30-year-old Californian says her disease symptoms virtually disappear during pregnancy and she often has energy to spare. "This morning I woke up at 6:30, had my daughter in preschool by 9:00, and was at my Tae-bo class by 9:30," she tells WebMD. "I know I should relax, but it's hard because I feel so good right now." Spurred by the observation that women with certain autoimmune diseases have fewer symptoms during pregnancy, UCLA researchers may have identified a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. Estriol, a hormone produced during pregnancy, was found to reduce symptoms in a small group of women with early-stage MS when given in pill form. The preliminary findings must be confirmed in larger studies, but researchers hope they will lead to better, cheaper, and more easily administered treatments for MS. "At present, the only approved treatments for MS are anti-inflammatory drugs administered by injection," lead researcher Rhonda Voskuhl, MD, says. "Our findings also hold promise for [the discovery of] new treatments for a host of other autoimmune disorders that improve during pregnancy, such as rheumatoid arthritis." Voskuhl is an associate professor of neurology at UCLA. As many as 400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, a progressive neurological disorder that occurs two to three times more often in women than in men. Symptoms develop when the body's immune system attacks the insulation of nerve fibers, and they can range from sensations of tingling, dizziness, and numbness to blindness and paralysis. In earlier studies, Voskuhl and colleagues tested estriol in mice with MS and found that symptoms improved in treated mice. In their latest study, published in the September issue of the Annals of Neurology, a dozen female MS patients were treated with 8 mg of estriol daily for six months. The dosage was selected to mimic estriol levels occurring naturally in a woman's sixth month of pregnancy. Six of the women in the study had a common, early version of MS in which symptoms come and go, and the other six had more advanced disease. After six months of treatment, the women with the earlier form of the disease were found to have less inflammation within their brains, as measured by magnetic resonance imaging, and their symptoms improved. Improvements disappeared when the women were taken off the hormone, but the women improved again when put back on it. Patients with more advanced disease did not show improvement during estriol therapy. The researchers believe that Estriol increased an immune response in the body, which halted the disease. "This is the first time there has ever been a trial of hormone therapy specifically targeted to MS," says Stephen Reingold, PhD, vice president for research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which funded the UCLA study. "The concept is based on a well-known, well-described phenomenon, which is the retrenchment of the disease during the second part of pregnancy." Reingold says these early data are encouraging enough to merit more research but warns that the long-term safety of estriol could not be established in this six-month study. Estriol is widely prescribed in Europe but not in the United States. Estriol is a weaker form of estrogen. During a pregnancy, doctors use it to measure development of the fetus. "It is very easy to overlook the potential long-term consequences of hormone therapy, but I think the world has had a bit of a wake-up call about that recently with the new revelations about hormone replacement therapy," he says.
Although researchers stop short of using the term "cure," several new discoveries may provide scientists with valuable clues about what causes multiple sclerosis and how to stop the nerve damage it causes. In a study published in the June 2002 issue of Brain, Mayo Clinic researchers report they have found an enzyme that seems to play a role in spurring the tissue damage that occurs in MS and other similar diseases. Meanwhile, two new studies in the June 2002 issue of the journal Nature Medicine show that having high levels of body chemicals known as cytokines may help protect crucial nerve cells from damage. Although the cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) is unknown, it's thought that the disease occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the insulation surrounding nerve cells. This insulation helps nerves conduct electrical impulses, allowing us to perform functions from movement to speech to vision to swallowing. The attack triggers a cascade of problems that eventually results in the loss of this insulation, a process called demyelination. The condition affects about one out of every 1,000 people, but it's more common among women than men. MS typically strikes people between the ages of 20 and 40, with symptoms ranging from numbness and tingling to incontinence and paralysis. In their study, Mayo Clinic researchers say they have found a dramatic increase in a newly discovered enzyme called MSP (myelencephalo-specific protease) in tissue samples damaged by MS. "If you could control this enzyme, you could possibly decrease the development of the disease," says study author Isobel Scarisbrick, PhD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in a news release. "We're not reporting this as a cure, but it represents something that could be targeted for therapy." Scarisbrick and colleagues are now developing tools to work with the enzyme and attempt to determine exactly what role it plays in the demyelination process. In related research, two studies from the University of Wuerzburg in Austria and University of Melbourne in Australia shed light on the process of nerve cell damage that occurs in MS. Their research points to two cytokine chemicals in the body that may play a role in protecting some of the cells involved in this process. The Austrian research team found mice that lacked the cytokine CNTF had a more severe form of MS than others. They suggest that this substance may protect certain nerve cells from damage. The Australian team found that another cytokine, called Leukemia Inhibitory Factor (LIF), can reverse the loss of cells normally found in mice with MS. They say LIF has already been tested in humans and has been well tolerated in doses similar to those used in this animal study. Researchers say these findings may serve as the basis for a new way to treat MS by targeting the process of cell damage itself.