Dr. Andrew P. Keegan, MD, Roskamp Clinic Medical Director
We are interested in understanding the aging immune system in multiple sclerosis, and this is particularly important during this time of the coronavirus.
As the coronavirus (specifically SARS-CoV-2) has our undivided attention, we are learning the importance of the immune system and the balance of its beneficial and detrimental roles. The immune system plays a vital part in defending us from bacteria and viruses amongst other dangerous microscopic predators, however, it also may overreact in certain situations. In the setting of some infections, notably the coronavirus, a cytokine storm* may ensue, leading to an individual’s demise. This is an extreme case of the immune system overresponding, but there are also more insidious instances of a simmering unwanted immune response.
In autoimmune diseases, it’s this overreactive immune system that seems to be the culprit in damaging parts of the body.
For example, in Rheumatoid arthritis, the immune cells attack certain joints leaving a person in pain with swollen joints that worsen during a flare up. Similarly, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease where instead of the immune cells attacking the joints, they attack the coating (myelin) of the nervous system leading to weakness and possibly burning and numbness. These diseases may require treatments that “suppress” the immune system, but these may put some of those individuals at more risk of infections.
Now back to the coronavirus. We are hoping for a vaccine so we can become immunized- that is, we want our immune system to do its job and react to a small piece of the virus and create antibodies to fight for us in the event that we are exposed to the real virus. However, the process of becoming immunized, like most things in life, is influenced by aging. As our immune system grows older, it is less able to fight infections, and less able to mount a response to a vaccine (i.e. become immunized). We are interested in understanding the aging immune system in multiple sclerosis, and this is particularly important during this time of the coronavirus. Perhaps there are certain people with autoimmune diseases for whom we can stop some of these medications that put them at risk for infections. Or, we may find that the immune system ages differently in autoimmune disease subjects and using a certain lab measure may help stratify those who should stop or stay on medications.
As we delve further into understanding the immune system, we find the complex details of this fine balance of the immune response important not only to chronic autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, but also in how we must approach this recent devastating outbreak of coronavirus.
*Read Executive Director Michael Mullan’s Covid19 perspective here.
About The Roskamp Institute Multiple Sclerosis Study – Seeking Volunteers.
Study Title: Characterization of Immune Profile in an Aging Multiple Sclerosis Clinic Population.
The Roskamp Institute, Inc. is conducting a clinical research study of the Characterization of Immune Profile in subjects with Multiple Sclerosis. The study will involve one visit to take place at Roskamp Institute. Study visit will include blood draw and clinical assessments. Principal Investigator: Andrew Keegan, M.D.
Seeking Multiple Sclerosis Study Volunteers.
To volunteer for this clinical research study being conducted at the Roskamp Institute, call Lois at (941) 256-8018 ext. 3056.