The 13 most dreadful neurological disorders…and the groups standing up to them

Neurology embodies some of the most dreadful diseases known to man. Every neurological disorder is disheartening, each characterised by unique frustrations for patients and their families. It is difficult to quantify the distress and misery these afflictions impose on their victims, and even harder to appreciate the despair and anguish they evoke in those who care for them.

Brain Art. Ars Electronica on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/arselectronica/7773544158

It is clearly hard to compare the impact of different neurological diseases. Some neurological disorders however stand out because of the consternation their names evoke, and the terror that follows in their wake. These diseases come with unimaginable physical and psychological burdens, and crushing demands on human and material resources. They impose either a debilitating morbidity, or a hasty mortality.

Neural pathways in the brain. NICHD on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nichd/16672073333

The nervous system ailments in the list below pose exacting therapeutic challenges, resistant as they are to all attempts at treatment or cure. This list sets out to emphasise the urgency for neuroscience to find a remedy for each of them, but it does not intend to belittle the horror of the disorders omitted from it. The choice of the number 13 is, sadly, self-evident. Here then are the top 13 most dreadful neurological disorders…all with gold links to the associations helping to defeat them.

Working Brain. Gontzal García del Caño on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/euskalanato/2052487054

Ataxia

Ataxia, in lay terms, is incoordination. This typically manifests as an unsteady gait and clumsiness. Ataxia converts all activities of daily living into burdensome chores. Whilst many types of ataxia are preventable or reversible, primary ataxias are progressive and carry a dismal outlook. In this category are Spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA)Friedreich’s ataxia, and Ataxia telangiectasia. You may read more about ataxia in these previous blog posts: The 43 spinocerebellar ataxias: the complete checklistsOld drugs, new roles?, and Will Riluzole really be good for cerebellar ataxia?

Brain tumours

Brain cancers hardly need any description. They are either primary, arising from the brain cells, or metastatic, spreading to the brain from other organs. Some primary brain cancers, such as meningiomas and pituitary tumours, are, relatively, treatable. Many others are unfortunately ominously malignant. The most dreadful in this category is surely the spine-chilling glioblastoma multiforme. You may check out these previous blog posts for more on these tumuors: Calming the rage of brain tumours: hope for a dreaded cancerMaggots, viruses and lasers: some innovations for brain tumoursand Are steroids detrimental to survival in brain tumours?

Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is ubiquitous in the neurology clinic. Neuropathy may result from reversible situations such as overindulgence in alcohol, uncontrolled diabetes, or Vitamin B12 deficiency. Neuropathy is often just a minor inconvenience when it manifests with sensory symptoms such as tingling and numbness. It may however be debilitating when it presents as limb paralysis, or complicated by major skeletal deformities. At the severe end of the spectrum of neuropathy are the hereditary forms such as Charcot Marie Tooth disease (CMT) and Familial amyloid polyneuropathy. Read more in these blog posts: The 52 variants of CMT… and their practical checklistsWhat’s looming at the frontline of peripheral neuropathy? and Will a pill really hold the cure for CMT?

Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD)

CJD is the most iconic of the prion diseases. These disorders are as horrendous as they are enigmatic, defying categorisation as either infections or neurodegenerative diseases. More puzzling is their ability to be either hereditary and acquired. CJD exists in the classic or variant form, but both share a relentlessly rapid course, and a uniformly fatal end. You may read more in these previous blog posts titled Final day of ANA 2015- Prions center stage, and What are the links between Prion diseases and Parkinsonian disorders?

Dementia

Dementia is the scourge of longevity. Its name strikes terror because it insidiously colonises the cells that make us who we are. The most prominent dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but it has equally dreadful companions such as Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Read more on dementia in these blog posts: How bright is the future for Alzheimer’s disease?Alzheimer’s disease: a few curious things, and Alzheimers disease and its promising links with diabetes.

Dystonia

Dystonia marks its presence by distressing movements and painful postures. At its most benign, dystonia is only a twitch of the eyelid (blepharospasm) or a flicker of one side of the face (hemifacial spasm). At the extreme end, it produces continuous twisting and swirling motions, often defying all treatments. The causes of dystonia are legion, but the primary dystonias stand out by their hereditary transmission and marked severity. Read more on dystonia in these blog posts: Why does dystonia fascinate and challenge neurology? and Making sense of the dystonias: the practical checklists.

Huntington’s disease (HD)

Huntington’s disease is an iconic eponymous neurological disorder which is marked by the vicious triumvirate of chorea, dementia, and a positive family history. It is an awful condition, often driving its victims to suicide. It is a so-called trinucleotide repeat expansion disorder, implying that successive generations manifest the disease at an earlier age, and in more severe forms (genetic anticipation). You may read more on HD in the previous blog post titled What are the prospects of stamping out Huntington’s disease? 

Motor neurone disease (MND) 

Also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), MND is simply devastating. Recognising no anatomical boundaries, it ravages the central and peripheral nervous systems equally. MND creeps up on the neurones and causes early muscle twitching (fasciculations) and cramps. It then gradually devours the nerves resulting in muscle wasting, loss of speech, ineffectual breathing, and impaired swallowing. It is no wonder that one of the most read post on this blog is titled Is neurology research finally breaking the resolve of MND? Other previous blog posts on MND are The emerging links between depression and MNDWhat is the relationship of MND and cancer?Does diabetes protect from MND?, and MND and funeral directors-really?

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis is a very common disease, and gets more common the further away you get from the equator. It is the subject of intense research because of the devastation it foists on predominantly young people. Many drugs now ameliorate, and even seem to halt the progression of, relapsing remitting MS (RRMS). This is however not the case with primary progressive MS (PPMS) which, until the introduction of ocrelizumab, defied all treatments. There are many contenders vying for the cause of MS, but the reason nerves in the central nervous system inexplicably lose their myelin sheaths remains elusive. You may read more on MS in these blog posts: The emerging progress from the world of MS , What are the remarkable drugs which have transformed the treatment of MS?, and Is low vitamin D a cause of multiple sclerosis?

Muscular dystrophy 

Muscular dystrophy is an umbrella term that covers a diverse range of inherited muscle diseases. The most devastating, on account of its early onset and unrelenting progression, is Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Adult neurologists will be more familiar with late onset muscular dystrophies such as Myotonic dystrophy and Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). Read more on muscular dystrophy in these previous blog posts: How is neurology stamping out the anguish of Duchenne? and The A–Z of limb girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD).

Rabies

Rabies, a rhabdovirus, is a zoonosis-it is transmitted to man by a wide range of animals such as dogs, bats, racoons, and skunks. It is the quintessential deadly neurological disease, popularised by the Steven King book and film, Cujo. Rabies manifests either as the encephalitic (furious) or the paralytic (dumb) forms. It wreaks havoc by causing irritability, hydrophobia (fear of water),  excessive sweating, altered consciousness, and inevitably death. Whilst there are vaccines to protect against rabies, a cure has eluded neuroscientists. This blog is yet to do justice to rabies but it is, at least, listed in the post titled What are the most iconic neurological disorders? But you could better by checking neurochecklists for details of the clinical features and management of rabies.

Spinal cord injury

Nothing is quite as heart-wrenching as the sudden loss of body function that results from spinal cord trauma. This often causes paralysis of both legs (paraplegia), or all four limbs (quadriplegia). This life-changing disorder is often accompanied by loss of control over bowel and bladder functions, and complications such as bed sores and painful spasms. You may read about the heroic efforts to treat spinal cord injury in the blog posts titled 6 innovations in the treatment of spinal cord injury and Head transplant, anyone?

Tetanus

Tetanus is an eminently preventable disease, now almost wiped out in developed countries by simple immunisation. It however continues its pillage and plunder in the developing world. It strikes young and old alike, often invading the body through innocuous wounds. Tetanus is caused by tetanospasmin and tetanolysin, the deadly toxins of the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The disease is classified as generalised, localised, cephalic, or neonatal tetanus. It is characterised by painful spasms which manifest as lockjaw (trismus), facial contortions (risus sardonicus), trunkal rigidity (opisthotonus), and vocal cord spasms (laryngospasm). The disease is awfully distressing and, when advanced, untreatable. It is a stain on the world that this avoidable disorder continuous to threaten a large number of its inhabitants. Check neurochecklists for more on the pathology, clinical features, and management of tetanus.

 

Light brain. Mario D’Amore on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/kidpixo/3470448888

As for all lists, this will surely be subject to debate, or perhaps some healthy controversy. Please leave a comment.

What are the remarkable drugs which have transformed the treatment of MS?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a common and blighting neurological disease. It frequently targets young people, often with disabling effects. It may affect any part of the central nervous system, and it manifests with relapsing or steadily progressive clinical features.

"Carswell-Multiple Sclerosis2" by derivative work: Garrondo (talk)Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg: Robert Carswell (1793–1857) - Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Carswell-Multiple Sclerosis2” by derivative work: Garrondo (talk)Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg: Robert Carswell (1793–1857) – Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Research is improving our understanding of MS at a breathtaking pace. Just as one is getting comfortable with the status quo, a sudden paradigm shift occurs. This is the work of the men and women in white coats, labouring in dingy labs, peering down powerful microscopes, and scrutinising imaging scans-all in the drive to improve the care of people who suffer from this defiant disease. To avoid becoming dinosaurs, neurologists have to keep up with the rapid developments at the cutting-edge of multiple sclerosis.

Blade end of 'Cutting Edge', Sheaf Square. Robin Stott http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2894285
Blade end of ‘Cutting Edge’, Sheaf Square. Robin Stott http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2894285

MS research has enhanced our knowledge of all aspects of the disease. For example, we know a lot more about MS risk factors, as discussed in my previous post titled MS risk factors: the top 6. There is also a lot going on with drug development, as I addressed in my previous blog posts, The emerging progress from the world of MS, and Masitinib, a breakthrough drug shattering neurology boundaries. More importantly, there are many drugs, already in use, which have radically changed neurological practice in a very short time. In this blog post I will review 5 treatments which have already transformed the management of MS.

1. Monoclonal antibodies 

B0007277 Monoclonal antibodies. Anna Tanczos. Wellcome Images on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wellcomeimages/5814713820
B0007277 Monoclonal antibodies. Wellcome Images on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/wellcomeimages/5814713820

It seems a long time ago now when the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) revolved just around interferons and steroids. Since then the monoclonal antibodies have changed the field radically. Drugs such as natalizumab and alemtuzumab are now mainstream, and many other ‘mabs’ have followed fast on their heels. Daclizumab is about to come into clinical practice soon, and ocrelizumab is full of promise for progressive MS, as discussed in this article in Medscape. With the floodgates now fully opened, other ‘mabs’ such as ofatumumab are trooping in fast. Unfortunately not all monoclonal antibodies are making the grade; an example is Opicinumab (anti LINGO-1), touted as a drug that boosts nerve signals, but which latest reports indicate failed to meet up to its high expectations.

2. Fingolimod

By Williamseanohlinger - Created with Spartan'10 softwareon my personal PC, Public Domain, Link
By Williamseanohlinger – Created with Spartan’10 softwareon my personal PC, Public Domain, Link

Fingolimod is the leader in the pack of sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor modulators. It has led the way and has the advantage that it is taken by mouth rather than by injection. It is limited by its risks on heart activity, and must be initiated under close cardiac monitoring. Beyond MS, it may have a wider impact on neurological practice as it is under consideration in the treatment of motor neurone disease (MND). Following quickly behind fingolimod, still in trial stages, are laquinimod, ozanimod, ponesimodsiponimod, and amiselimod. It is still not clear if these drugs will have a similar impact as the monoclonal antibodies, in which case we may end up with the war of the ‘Mabs’ versus the ‘Mods’.

3. Dimethyl fumarate

By Ben Mills - Own work, Public Domain, Link
By Ben MillsOwn work, Public Domain, Link

Dimethyl fumarate is an oral MS drug which works by activating the erythroid-derived 2-like transcriptional pathway. It has the stamp of approval of a Cochrane Database review on account of moderate quality evidence from two randomized clinical trials. It is fairly well-tolerated, mild flushing being the commonest reported side effect. 

4. Terifluonomide

By Jynto (talk) - Own workThis chemical image was created with Discovery Studio Visualizer., CC0, Link
By Jynto (talk) – Own workThis chemical image was created with Discovery Studio Visualizer., CC0, Link

Terifluonomide is another oral drug developed for the treatment of MS. It is a pyrimidine synthesis inhibitor. Unlike dimethyl fumarate, a recent Cochrane database review for terifluonomide found only low-quality evidence from 5 clinical trials. The review says ‘all studies had a high risk of detection bias for relapse assessment, and a high risk of bias due to conflicts of interest‘. Not very glowing tributes, but in its favour is the low frequency of significant side effects.

5. PEGylated interferon

Von Anypodetos - Eigenes Werk, CC0, Link
Von AnypodetosEigenes Werk, CC0, Link

PEG-interferon is an enhancement to good interferons of old (which, by the way, are still on active duty in MS). It was developed to reduce the high frequency of injections associated with Interferon beta-1a. Pegylation is the attachment of polyethylene glycol (PEG), and this process increases the half life of drugs. It is not clear that pegylation offers any other advantage over ‘ordinary’ interferon, but surely the 2 weekly injection is a significant advance. 

Breakthrough VSCO Monochrome Black & White KitCam at Carnegie Museum Of Art. Spiro Bolos on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/spirobolos/15879318128
Breakthrough VSCO Monochrome Black & White KitCam at Carnegie Museum Of Art. Spiro Bolos on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/spirobolos/15879318128

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For the future direction of MS treatment, I recommend Gavin Giovannoni‘s BartsMS Blog.

You may also  check out this recent review in American Health and Drug Benefits titled The Latest Innovations in the Drug Pipeline for Multiple Sclerosis

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Multiple sclerosis treatment: new kids on the block

Multiple sclerosis is a scourge. It frequently targets the young with devastating, often life-long, effects. It spares no parts of the central nervous system, affecting the brain, spinal cord and major nerves. There are several MS risk factors as discussed in my previous post MS risk factors: the top 6. In this post I address the treatments of MS. There are already several agents available and the most widely used are the Interferons. Other medications are the monoclonal antibodies such as Natalizumab and Alemtuzumab. Oral agents are also gaining ascendance and include Fingolimod and Cladribine. Other drugs include Fumarate and Teriflunomide. This article gives a good overview of MS treatments. The field is however rapidly advancing and I recommend this helpful update.

"Carswell-Multiple Sclerosis2" by derivative work: Garrondo (talk)Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg: Robert Carswell (1793–1857) - Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Carswell-Multiple Sclerosis2” by derivative work: Garrondo (talk)Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg: Robert Carswell (1793–1857) – Carswell-Multiple_Sclerosis.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

MS however remains an elusive condition to treat. Current treatments may reduce episodes of relapses but seem to do little to stop the progression of the disease. Some new drugs are however breaking the mold.

A highly promising drug is Ocrelizumab. This drug excited the recent European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) as discussed in this article in Medscape. It appears to be highly effective and has the advantage of producing fewer side effects than most other agents.

Anti LINGO-1 is another promising treatment in development. Anti-LINGO 1 seems to repair damaged nerves.

"Neuron with oligodendrocyte and myelin sheath" by Neuron_with_oligodendrocyte_and_myelin_sheath.svg: *Complete_neuron_cell_diagram_en.svg: LadyofHatsderivative work: Andrew c (talk) - Neuron_with_oligodendrocyte_and_myelin_sheath.svg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Neuron with oligodendrocyte and myelin sheath” by Neuron_with_oligodendrocyte_and_myelin_sheath.svg: *Complete_neuron_cell_diagram_en.svg: LadyofHatsderivative work: Andrew c (talk) – Neuron_with_oligodendrocyte_and_myelin_sheath.svg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Most treatments of MS are directed at the relapsing remitting form but it is hopeful that a new drug, Masitinib, may break the glass ceiling with progressive MS. Masitinib is an oral agent currently in trial stages. This piece from the MS Society gives further details on Masitinib.

Nanotechnology is another development which may be applied to MS treatment. Nanoparticles may be used to deliver antigens that modulate the immune system. So far however, this technology is still in animal trials.

Nanoparticles. Attribution Christopher Johnson and Vilas G. Pol via Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/argonne/3974983988
Nanoparticles. Attribution Christopher Johnson and Vilas G. Pol via Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/argonne/3974983988

 

To keep a tab on developments in the MS world I recommend the BartsMS Blog.

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