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Researchers Report Tuberculosis Vaccine Could Prevent MS

Update Date: Dec 04, 2013 04:08 PM EST

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. MS manifests when the myelin sheath, which protects nerve cells, is damaged. As a result, nerve signals slow down or stop, which could hinder people's motor skills. There is no cure for MS however, there are treatments that can slow down the progression of the disease. A new study is reporting that the tuberculosis vaccine could potentially prevent the onset of MS.

In this study, the researchers examined 73 people who most likely experienced their first episode MS. These people had symptoms that pointed to MS, which were numbness, vision complications, and difficulty with balance. The participants had an MRI that also revealed signs of possible MS. Within two years, around half of the people developed definite MS and 10 percent of the entire group no longer had MS-related symptoms.

33 of the patients were given one injection of the live tuberculosis vaccine, bacilli Calmette-Guérin. The vaccine is not used in the United States. The rest of the people received a placebo injection. The researchers then scanned the participants' brains once a month for six months. All of the participants were given the MS drug, interferon beta-1a for 12 months. When the year was up, the participants took whichever MS drug their neurologists recommended. The team tracked the development of definite MS for five years.

The researchers reported that people who received that vaccine had fewer brain lesions after the first six months. Lesions are an indicator of potential MS and the vaccine group had three lesions whereas the placebo group had seven. At the end of the study, 58 percent of the vaccine group did not have MS where as only 30 percent of the placebo group did not have MS.

"These results are promising, but much more research needs to be done to learn more about the safety and long-term effects of this live vaccine," said study author Giovanni Ristori, MD, PhD, of Sapienza University of Rome in Italy. "Doctors should not start using this vaccine to treat MS or clinically isolated syndrome."

The study was published in the Neurology.

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