Two new investigations take a fresh approach to probing an unpredictable disease.
Medical researchers have struggled for years to understand multiple sclerosis (MS), a nervous-system disorder with no known cause. An unpredictable disease, MS causes severe degenerative symptoms in some patients while others remain largely unaffected.
Now Bastyr University researchers are launching a series of studies into underexplored facets of MS — and they're looking for people to participate.
At the heart of the investigation lies a crucial question: Why do some MS patients have a benign disease that does not worsen over time? And what do diet, lifestyle and integrative medicine have to do with their success?
"When people are diagnosed with MS, they're told the disease is irreversible and progressive," says lead investigator Laurie Mischley, ND, a clinical research assistant professor at the Bastyr University Research Institute. "But it's just not true. We know from years of research that not everyone's disease progresses.
"We're trying to find out from people who are doing really well: What are they doing differently?"
You can help by participating in two new studies:
This web-based study seeks people who have MS to answer a series of questions about their diet, medical treatment, daily activities and other habits. Participants will complete a form once every six months for five years. A paper survey is also available for those who prefer it.
"Anyone anywhere in the world can participate if they have MS," says Dr. Mischley.
Researchers will use advanced statistical methods to search for common traits among the most successful patients, sometimes called "positive deviants." The "positive deviance" approach is an unconventional problem-solving strategy that may be promising for a complex problem like MS, says Dr. Mischley.
"We want to find these positive deviants who face the same diagnosis as their peers but do not go on to develop disability," she says.
“The more people who participate, the more we can learn.”
The study will support future clinical trials measuring whether complementary, alternative and integrative medicine (CAM) can help slow the progression of MS.
See the study page to participate and get more information.
A second study explores the relationship between blood clotting and MS, and how diet affects the disease. Participants will come to Bastyr's campus for a single visit to give a blood sample and answer questions about diet and lifestyle.
The study was partially inspired by the recent surge in interest in Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI), a term for the theory that individuals with MS have compromised blood flow. Hype over CCSVI has largely come and gone, but questions remain about the role of blood vessels, circulation and inflammation in MS.
“What CCSVI did for the MS community was bring attention to the role of the vascular system,” says Dr. Mischley.
The study uses a machine called a Sonoclot analyzer, which open-heart surgeons use to quickly measure the clotting ability of a patient's blood.
“While Sonoclot machines have been in use for decades, the application to MS is novel,” Dr. Mischley says.
Another reason the blood-clotting study excites her: The study is designed to inform the development of natural therapies. If the results meet expectations, researchers may be able to move on to a clinical trial by next year.
The sheer amount of unknown information about MS makes it a promising study topic at Bastyr, which takes a holistic approach to health, stressing the connections among mind and body. The new studies are designed to gather broad, diverse information on medications, diet, herbal supplements, exercise, meditation, and an array of other factors.
"When little is known about effective treatments for conditions such as MS, it makes sense to cast a broad net to try to identify the most promising treatment options," says Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD, director of the Bastyr University Research Institute.
He said Dr. Mischley's focus on diet/disease connections will be especially useful, since few medical researchers receive extensive training in nutrition.
The web study is funded in part by a University seed grant, and the blood-clotting study is funded by Charles and Barbara Wright.
Bastyr students are also working on the projects through the Bastyr Center for Student Research. In the process, they're learning how to conduct scientific research on CAM therapies, Dr. Mischley says.
"We're using some of the most well-established study design methods and applying them to neurology in a way that's never been done," she says.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 602-3306.