On May 30, the world commemorates World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day. MS is one of the most common central nervous system diseases that affect over 2.8 million individuals worldwide today. And that is why World MS Day brings together people and organisations from all over the world to promote awareness while bringing us closer to a world free of MS. It is a day to celebrate worldwide unity and optimism for the future.

In 2009, the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) commemorated the inaugural World MS Day. The MSIF was originally established in 1967 as an international organisation that collaborated with national MS groups from countries such as Turkey, Slovakia, India, and the United States. Since then, the federation has influenced hundreds of millions of people globally, with each year’s campaign focusing on a new theme. The theme of this year’s World Multiple Sclerosis Day is ‘Connect.’ This theme, which runs from 2020 to 2022, focuses on bringing the world together by connecting with one another and with oneself for greater kindness.

‘I Connect, We Connect’ is the campaign tagline for 2022, and the campaign hashtag is #MSConnections. This campaign, designed with members of the worldwide MSIF movement, will address societal barriers that leave individuals with MS feeling lonely and socially isolated. It provides a chance to promote better services, recognise support networks, and foster self-care. When commemorating World MS Day, an individual or an organisation can choose to focus on a variety of angles, such as building communities that support and nurture people affected by MS, promoting self-care and healthy living with MS, or lobbying decision-makers for better services and effective treatment for people with MS.

Therefore, Sunway Echo Media would want to be a part of the effort this year to raise awareness among our audience about the symptoms, diagnosis, and research on MS, hoping to positively impact on the lives of over 2.8 million individuals worldwide. Organisations and individuals interested in contributing may go to worldmsday.org for more information or use the toolbox of free tools provided by MSIF that assists everyone in taking part. Do remember that anyone can be a part of this significant change.

What is Multiple Sclerosis? 

First described by the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in 1868, Multiple Sclerosis has become one of the most common demyelinating diseases. This condition affects both the brain and spinal cord. As a result of MS, the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. Without the insulating covers, the ability of parts of the nervous system to transmit signals is disrupted. This further snowballs to physical, mental and sometimes psychiatric problems. 

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis 

Multiple sclerosis is a variable syndrome, with symptoms varying depending on which  central nervous system regions have been damaged (bladder and bowel, emotion and cognition, fatigue, movement and coordination, pain, sexual issues, vision, speech and swallowing impairments, and numbness). The truth is that most people with MS will have over one symptom, and while many people share some symptoms, no one will have all of them. The symptoms are also unexpected. For some, the symptoms grow and get worse over time, while others’ symptoms come and go. Relapses are episodes in which symptoms worsen, while remissions are periods when symptoms improve or subside. All in all, there is no set pattern to MS, and each individual with MS has a unique collection of symptoms that fluctuate over time and can vary in severity and duration, even in the same person.

Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis 

Involving various tests such as a physical examination, blood test and MRI imaging test, there is no definitive test to diagnose multiple sclerosis. The arrays of test carried out each has their own roles in leading to the diagnosis of MS and are vital to rule out other conditions that might result in the same signs and symptoms. We also know this method of diagnosing as a differential diagnosis. 

For example, an MRI is needed to look for evidence of lesions in the brain or spinal cord. The lesions that arise are due to the damaging of the myelin sheath surrounding the nerves. To carry out an MRI, an intravenous injection of contrast material is necessary in order to highlight lesions that indicate the active phase of the disease. 

A spinal tap can also be carried out to help rule out other infections and diseases that might result in similar symptoms such as MS. During a spinal tap, a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid is removed in order for laboratory analysis to be carried out. This sample will then be able to show any abnormalities in antibodies that are associated with MS. 

Should the tests fail to provide a definitive answer, evoked potentials test may be carried out. An evoked potential test is a test that is able to check nerve function by measuring electrical activity in the brain and the spinal cord. 

Research on Multiple Sclerosis

Research surrounding Multiple Sclerosis mainly aims to: Stop the progression of the disease, restore what has been lost as well as end MS forever. 

In order to understand and stop MS, one must be able to know the role played by the immune system. The immune system is involved in both the inflammatory attacks on the myelin and most possibly, the injury to the axons. Research on the correlation between the immune system and MS mainly focuses on understanding components in the immune system, identifying new targets for therapeutic intervention, identifying the substances that lead to the destruction of the axons and the messenger molecules that could either turn on or off the immune attack. Such studies on the immune system have laid the groundwork for advanced therapies such as the development of MS therapies that target the B cells. 

In order to restore the loss of function due to multiple sclerosis, research regarding potential cell therapies and myelin repair strategies are necessary. However, more can be done to give back what has been lost. This requires more understanding regarding how the nerves and myelin work normally to stimulate repair is necessary. Clinical trials of new cell therapies and other therapeutic approaches to rebuilding the myelin sheath are also being pursued aggressively. 

The goal to end multiple sclerosis might seem far fetched, but it is still necessary. Research with the main aim of ending MS forever is driven by the initiative to search for the genes that cause MS as well as the triggering factors. Efforts to end MS forever and protect it from harming future generations require scientists to be able to understand factors in the environmental influence and the potential triggers. 

While there is currently no known cure for multiple sclerosis, such research that is  actively being carried out can provide hope to patients. 

References: 

  1. Diagnosis of MS
  2. Multiple Sclerosis Cleveland Clinic
  3. National Today Info
  4. National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  5. Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF)
  6. National Multiple Sclerosis Society Malaysia

Written by: Sumitra Cheong and Jamie 

Edited by: Maki

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