Multiple sclerosis: new study suggests vaccine can protect against MS

Findings from a new study are likely to prove a key benefit of vaccines for preventing multiple sclerosis – a number of doses can offer some protection from the disease, a new study suggests.

MS is a disease that attacks the protective myelin coating around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. While some drugs are approved to slow the progress of MS, some side effects also occur.

The study team says multiple vaccinations may be better in MS than most current drugs as there is minimal side effects and the drug can help protect the nervous system.

Dr Tina Hunter of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine led the research.

She told BBC News that the research “fully supported previous recommendations for preventive vaccination against MS.”

The study was published in The Lancet Neurology.

Dr Hunter said the researchers’ results “make good sense” given that “there is increasing evidence that multiple vaccinations offer protective effect.

“Our study builds on previous evidence that four doses of measles-rubella vaccine are sufficient to provide protection against childhood measles and completely protection against serogroup B measles. Further research should investigate the association of MS vaccination with protection against measles,” she said.

Researchers at the Australian National University, Canberra, who have collaborated on MS vaccine research for the past decade, told BBC News that although all people with MS will benefit from the various vaccinations provided by the NHS, vaccination strategies should be tailored to them.

Dr Michael Hay of ANU said the “more an individual is vaccinated, the better they are protected against additional secondary infections that come along with chronic neurodegenerative diseases such as MS.”

MS-specific vaccines

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that prompted this research suggested that a MS vaccine or vaccine combination is highly effective at slowing the progression of MS in patients who develop it.

It also found that the vaccination strategy was well tolerated. These findings were published in 2000.

Professor Alex Macgillivray, of the Whitehead Institute, Cambridge, and Harvard Medical School, told BBC News it was only logical to examine the effectiveness of additional MS vaccines.

“The time is right to provide meaningful science based vaccines for MS. We could develop drugs which work by blocking these fundamental drivers of disease: the destruction of myelin in the brain and spinal cord,” he said.

The results of the new research are of particular interest to researchers following the announcement of three new MS therapies being developed by five large pharmaceutical companies.

Some of the companies making the new therapies – led by Biogen, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer – have expressed a need for “relevant” vaccine research.

Recent Chinese research published in the Science Translational Medicine journal found that the safety and efficacy of two vaccines shown to reverse Alzheimer’s disease in mice were boosted in a follow-up study carried out using mice in China.

Dr Hunter said recent studies “have exposed a missed opportunity, to develop vaccines in a timely fashion.”

She added: “Right now the vaccine space is underdeveloped in the UK. Other Western countries are far ahead in this research, such as the US and Japan.

“This situation is unsustainable if we want effective treatments for MS by 2050, when an estimated 1.4 million people will be living with the disease.

“This sets the agenda for investment in MS vaccines.”

The team hopes their findings will encourage further research into MS vaccines.

So far it has identified some measles viruses that may be able to deliver multiple vaccines. It also identified the herpes genes and the immune defences that make some vaccines work.

Dr Hunter says “the most exciting steps” for her team come “when we can expand our understanding of how immune systems like the MS nerve system interact”.

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