Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Multiple sclerosis breakthrough as researcher saves wife

Dr. Paolo Zamboni has been in the news several times in the past twelve months for his breakthrough discovery. He claims that patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) have been found to have clogged veins that are responsible for the symptoms of their disease. He bases this claim on his finding that most patients with MS have clogged veins, but their symptoms stop progressing and often become better after the veins have been unclogged. This is a breakthrough because currently we have been treating MS with immunosuppresive drugs that have had mixed results.

The article makes an error when it claims that Dr. Zamboni's findings contradict the current understanding that MS is an autoimmune disease. Hypothetically, the clogged veins prevent drainage of toxins which causes an inflammatory response in the brain. This inflammatory response causes the blood brain barrier to become permeable to immune cells, which is normally a good thing because it allows immune cells to enter the brain and attack the toxins or infection causing the inflammation. However, when these immune cells enter the brain constantly they may may instead wreak havoc on the myelin of the nerves (the current supported pathogenetic mechanism of MS is that the immune cells attack the myelin of the nerves). This theory, which is also mentioned in the article (so it really doesn't make sense that the article claims the findings oppose the belief that MS is an autoimmune disease), allows both the current understanding of MS and Dr. Zamboni's findings to co-exist peacefully.

An interesting subplot in this story is that Dr. Zamboni was motivated to perform this research because his wife was suffering from MS. He studied the current research on MS thoroughly and realized that patients consistently had increased iron deposits around the veins that drain blood from the brain. Most physicians and researchers attributed this to the constant autoimmune reactions associated with MS, but Dr. Zamboni thought that it might be more significant. After measuring the blood flow of the venous drainage of MS patients and realizing that they were significantly lower than healthy people...he developed his new therapy...

I bet that he won't be yelled at if he forgets to put his clothes in the hamper, at least not for a couple of months...

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