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Entrance to ECTRIMS 2022

UK MS Register shares latest discoveries at world's largest MS conference

Last week over 7000 people gathered at ECTRIMS – the world’s largest research conference on MS. And the UK MS Register shared some of their latest discoveries. 

Researchers share early results at conferences like ECTRIMS, so they can get feedback from other scientists. It's not the final data we'll see published in a peer-reviewed journal. But it's great to get a sneak-peek of their findings.

MS diagnosed after 50 looks different to MS diagnosed earlier 

If your MS is diagnosed after you turn 50, it’s usually called late-onset MS. Sarah Knowles, a Research Analyst at the Register, presented findings on the differences between MS diagnosed before or after 50

Out of 17,000 people on the Register, nearly 10% had late-onset MS.

This group included a higher proportion of people diagnosed with primary progressive MS. And they had a higher level of disability at diagnosis. But for people with progressive MS, disability progression then continued at a similar rate as people with an earlier onset.

She said her Register findings mirrored other research from Wales, which found people with late-onset MS had more nerve cell loss. And we know this is what causes disability progression.

So she thinks people with late-onset MS would particularly benefit from treatments to protect nerves. And she says her results indicate clinical trials of these drugs may want to consider including a larger number of older people with MS. 

Read about Chariot MS, the first ever MS trial with no upper age limit

Some people being treated for depression report lower levels of disability 

Dr Jeff Rogers, who's also a Research Analyst at the Register, presented findings on the link between treating depression in MS, and disability. 

He used the real-world data from the Register to mimic a clinical trial. He compared two groups of people with similar characteristics, half of whom were taking antidepressants and half who weren’t. They all filled in repeated questionnaires about their disability.

Jeff found people taking one of the antidepressants reported less disability worsening than the control group. But other antidepressants didn’t show a difference. This partly reflects the results of the MS SMART trial, which found the antidepressant fluoxetine didn't slow disability progression. 

So we don't yet know whether treating depression impacts MS itself. But these early results might prompt further studies to see if taking particular antidepressants could affect disability. 

DMTs may become less effective the longer you have secondary progressive MS

In the UK, disease modifying therapies (DMTs) for MS usually have to be withdrawn when you reach a certain level of disability. That’s because historically we haven’t had enough evidence to know whether they’re effective in progressive MS.

Researchers from nine MS Registers around the world, including the UK MS Register, combined their data to explore the relationship between taking a DMT and disability progression in secondary progressive MS.

They analysed data from over 10,000 people. At the first time point, people taking DMTs had lower scores on the Expanded Disability Status Scale (indicating less disability). But during the follow-up period, there was no positive effect of staying on a treatment.

So they conclude DMTs might be beneficial at earlier stages of secondary progressive MS. But the beneficial effect might decrease as people get older.

We need more research to know for sure. And current clinical trials are testing whether DMTs can help people with more advanced MS. 

It’s great to see the difference the UK MS Register is making to MS research. Find out more about the Register, including how to sign up.