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Research Brings New Hope to Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center Discovers Way to Fight Rare, but Deadly, Side Effect from Drug.

MILWAUKEE, Feb. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Researchers at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center have developed a technique that counteracts an unusual, but serious, side effect from natalizumab (Tysabri(R)), a drug that fights multiple sclerosis (MS).

The side effect is a brain virus called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML).

"This virus looks like a multiple sclerosis relapse," Dr. Bhupendra Khatri says. "It rapidly destroys the white matter of the brain. Now we know exactly how to respond if this virus emerges."

The response is a series of plasma exchanges that filter the drug out of the blood stream, allowing the immune system to recover and fight the virus.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease where the body's immune system attacks the protective sheath surrounding the nerves. Natalizumab suppresses the immune system to slow or halt the progression of the disease. However, if the patient contracts PML, the immune system is not strong enough to combat the infection, so the drug needs to be removed from the body quickly.

Dr. Khatri, medical director of Aurora's Regional MS Center is lead author of the study published in the Feb. 3 issue of Neurology, the official publication of the American Academy of Neurology.

In the study 12 multiple sclerosis patients on natalizumab underwent three plasma exchange sessions over a five-day or an eight-day period. By replacing the drug-infused plasma with clean fluid, Dr. Khatri and his team were able to get 92 percent of the drug out of patients' bodies over a span of eight days instead of the 12 weeks it would take with no treatment.

Debra Goodwin, a clinical research nurse who worked on the study and a multiple sclerosis patient herself, says the discovery gives new hope to those with the disease who take natalizumab.

"If something were to go wrong, now there is a demonstrated method to remove the drug from the body and help the patient fight PML," Goodwin says.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates 400,000 people in the United States have MS. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis though there are several drugs that can slow or stop its progress. Symptoms can include blurred vision, loss of coordination and short-term or long-term memory loss.

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit health care provider and a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of health care. Aurora offers care at sites in more than 90 communities throughout eastern Wisconsin.

Aurora's online newsroom:

The Regional MS Center:

SOURCE Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center
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