Multiple Sclerosis (MS) attacks many patients relentlessly while others experience intermittent attacks interspersed with periods of quiet. In looking for answers to why some progress to these relentless attacks and how to treat them, scientists may have found a key to unlocking answers and therapies. As evidenced by the series of logical steps they followed, this paper outlines what led them to look at P2X4 gene as a potential target for progressive MS therapy. In experimental animal models they stimulated this pathway to turn the microglia (brain immune cell type) from a pro-inflammatory activity to an anti-inflammatory activity. The therapy changed the course of the disease in the experimental mouse model.
Before going further into the implications of this therapy, lets pause to consider how complicated such research is and therefore appreciate both the hard work and the genius behind it. As almost always is the case, such research must have been preceded by countless other discoveries. Any discovery depends on others having uncovered prior answers or new methods of peering into our metabolic and disease processes. For example, the understanding of our immune system when I was in medical school in the 90’s would likely only fill an introductory chapter of today’s immunology text. The tools of genetics and molecular identification are leaps and bounds beyond what was available then. Imagine putting your eye to a microscope and peering into the microscopic world of cells for the first time. We are seeing and understanding another layer deeper into the processes behind such diseases as multiple sclerosis. We likely have more layers to go.
Back to this discovery now that you get an idea of how significant and difficult this research is for medicine. If scientists can better understand what molecular or genetic switches direct one patient versus another down different disease pathways, we can hope to see therapies on the horizon. While we wait for targeted pharmaceuticals, we should keep two things in mind. First, the complexity and overlapping functions of our immune system and our nervous system make silver bullets hard to find. Finding that one silver bullet therapy which allows us to redirect the course of an illness without causing any other side effects remains elusive. The molecular switches are rarely simple “yes/no’s” or “left/right” dichotomies. More often one switch controls several downstream changes. One change may be exactly what we want for treating a disease. Another downstream alteration may cause more harm than good.
Second, we may have some natural therapies available now to modulate these same processes for benefit. Rather than waiting for the billion dollar miracle drug which may or may not ever come, we can inch towards restoring health now. In the case of MS, we can work on lowering inflammation through dietary changes and nutritional support. By removing processed foods laden with synthetic chemicals, high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats, we can see MS symptoms improve. By removing toxins like heavy metals and organic solvents, we can often see their symptoms improve. By providing nutrition with healthy fats for myelin production (the nerve cell covering which is destroyed in MS), we can see some improvement. By using nutraceuticals which raise BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) we can encourage brain healing.
Where does that lead a functional MD like myself in terms of MS therapy today? It leads me to do exactly what we do for all our chronically ill patients. We apply an intensive approach to search for deficiencies, toxicities, genetic tendencies, chronic infections, multi-system dysfunctions, and more. We apply a whole person root cause analysis approach that then guides an integration of the best of both conventional and natural medicine in therapy. We look forward to future discoveries and the medications they may bring. We don’t wait around doing nothing until then however. We apply the logic of science and reason with natural therapies to help patients live healthier lives today.
Alazne Zabala, Nuria Vazquez‐Villoldo, Björn Rissiek, Jon Gejo, Abraham Martin, Aitor Palomino, Alberto Perez‐Samartín, Krishna R Pulagam, Marco Lukowiak, Estibaliz Capetillo‐Zarate, Jordi Llop, Tim Magnus, Friedrich Koch‐Nolte, Francois Rassendren, Carlos Matute, María Domercq. P2X4 receptor controls microglia activation and favors remyelination in autoimmune encephalitis. EMBO Molecular Medicine, 2018; e8743 DOI: 10.15252/emmm.201708743