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A Study on Veins in the Brain Leads to a Possible MS Discovery

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A Study on Veins in the Brain Leads to a Possible MS Discovery

February 11, 2010

By Amanda Dolan for Veins1

New studies conducted by the University of Buffalo close in on pinpointing the cause of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Currently there is no known cause of MS, though researchers in the past have attributed MS to an uncertain combination of genetic, environmental, infectious, and even dietary factors. Now, due to recent studies that work off a hypothesis created in 2008 by Italian researcher Dr. Paulo Zamboni, researchers believe MS is caused by narrowed veins leading to abnormal blood drainage that causes the nervous system damage associated with MS.

Though cause has remained a mystery, the physiology of nervous system damage and MS has been long understood. Patients with MS experience miscommunication between nerve cells that send electrical messages to one another. This happens when their immune system attacks the insulation of the nerve cells called myelin, causing scarring (where the term multiple sclerosis comes from) or plaques. When the myelin is damaged this way, nerve cells can no longer effectively conduct signals. This leads to a number of neurological symptoms that come without warning and vary from patient to patient, most commonly: muscle pain, spasms, difficulty moving, swallowing, seeing, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, digestive difficulties, and cognitive impairment. MS symptoms come in bouts known as attacks, flare-ups, or exacerbations that occur in 1.5 attacks per year. Current treatments—which are expensive, often painful, and must be self-administered frequently—do little to alleviate the effects of the disease. Many patients resort to trying alternative medicine or treatments, though right now, there are a few oral medications that are in the trial-phases and may enter the market soon though not without high patient costs. Until recently, the cause of MS has been unknown, which is why this new research is so compelling to the scientific community.

These studies assert that MS is caused by narrowed veins that “prevent the blood from draining fast enough and injure the brain by causing a buildup of iron.” This phenomenon is referred to as Chronic cerebro-spinal venous insufficiency syndrome, or CCSVI—which stands on its own as a syndrome, though has shown compelling evidence as a possible cause for MS.

Buffalo researchers utilized a Doppler ultrasound to scan 500 patients with MS in different body position to see how the blood flowed through the veins. Patients were also given MRI scans of their brain to study iron deposits throughout parts of the brain. Though these studies have only garnered preliminary data, researchers are excited about the potential link they’ve found. Their work has already proven that extracranial veins, once narrowed, do indeed have a relationship to MS. Research is still being conducted as MRI results and other data is analyzed.

The MS community is weary of the studies, and Biomedical Research Manager of the MS Society, Dr. Doug Brown remains cautious and urges MS patients to be cautious as well. He says, “"These results are intriguing but it is important to remember that although people with MS may show evidence of chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency in screening studies, there's no proof as yet that this phenomenon is a cause of MS, nor that treating it would have an effect on MS. The next step is to determine what this actually means for MS and an investigation into whether there's any potential therapeutic benefit from treatment will be pivotal for this novel theory."

Read more about this study on the National MS Society website

See what the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center planned for the study

Learn more about Multiple Sclerosis

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