ENS 2006: 2.200 neurologists assembled in Lausanne
Neurological Diseases: Underestimated Problems - Promising new treatments
International scientists discuss the most recent research results, for example, of the treatment of multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, in the field on sleep research, in the treatment of strokes or in the visualization of cerebral processes through the most modern MRI procedures at the European Neurological Society conference currently taking place in Lausanne (CH).
A look at the spread of neurological diseases shows how important this new awareness is: „Neurological complaints are developing into downright widespread diseases,” said Prof. Dr. Gerard Said (Paris), secretary general of the ENS, at the official press conference of the 16th annual meeting of the European Neurological Society (ENS) in Lausanne. 1.1 million people a year in Europe suffer a stroke. Roughly 41 million people suffer from migraines, almost five million Europeans have dementia, and 1.2 million people suffer from Parkinson’s disease. Altogether, 51 million people in Europe suffer from a neurological disease. Still, experts criticized during the meeting, neurological diseases do not receive the same attention in the public and politically as, for instance, cardiovascular conditions or cancer.
ENS conference shows the current state of the research
The European Neurology Conference ENS 2006, where over 2,200 experts assembled in Lausanne, accommodated the newest developments in the field of neurology. “We discussed the newest diagnostic, therapeutic and technological developments regarding all neurological disease groups afflicting many people, such as strokes, dementia, sleep disorders, migraines or Parkinson’s disease,” said Prof. Said. A total of 700 scientific contributions, 20 advanced training courses and a number of top-class symposia reflect the state of research.
Neuroimaging – Images show how our brain works
„Current research results concerning imaging of cerebral processes through modern MRI imaging are an important highlight of the conference,“ said Prof. Said: “Through this we expect to detect important signs for the further development of cerebral research and particularly for treatment of people with cerebral disorders.”
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), radioactive marked antibodies or magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed new ways in diagnosing and treating dangerous diseases such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis or cerebral tumors. Through magnetic resonance spectroscopy the body’s own “markers,” that provide important evidence of certain disorders, can be identified in the brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) represented a specifically remarkable development. Prof. Said: “This method, for example, allows for detecting the smallest changes in the blood’s oxygen content as is the case through activation of cerebral regions. This allows us to examine how the brain works, but also how it reacts to diseases and what possibilities we have to change our treatment through training or how to overcome damages.”
New therapeutic options for multiple sclerosis
Numerous lectures and discussions during the meeting were dedicated to the better understanding of the disease mechanisms of multiple sclerosis. “A central aspect of the treatment of MS will be, on the one hand, control over the inflammatory component and, on the other hand, over the repair mechanisms and neuroprotection, meaning supporting regeneration of damaged nerve tissue,” Prof. Said explained. “Impressive data on new treatments of MS are being presented at the ENS.”
Vascular diseases age the brain
Risk factors that can cause a stroke also present a source of danger for intellectual capacity, as shown by experts at the ENS 2006. This is of importance because of the demographic situation, which is similar in all of Europe. Prof Said: “Since 1960 the number of people older than 60 grew from 49 million or 15 percent of the total population to 82 million or 22 percent of the total population in the “old” EU member states. A further increase to 124 million is expected by 2050.
It is no small wonder then that in addition to other age-related changes there is a significant increase in those changes having to do with the brain’s capacity. “The connection between stroke and dementia can in the meantime clearly be seen by means of data. Vascular risk factors that can cause a stroke also have a negative effect on intellectual capacity,” said Prof. Said. Researchers have shown that cerebral mutations associated with minor vascular diseases can already cause deterioration syndromes.
The critical phenomenon is called “WMC.” This abbreviation used by experts stands for “white matter changes”, changes in the white matter of the brain. These changes are probably caused by the aging process and by vascular risk factors. “We know today that WMC increases the lethality risk altogether and the risk of a stroke or dementia. Apparently this phenomenon is one of the main causes for the fact that older people are becoming more and more decrepit,” Prof. Said said. “We are able to detect these phenomena and to understand them. This opens up a large research field through which interventions we can stop or influence processes in the brain such as these.”
Stroke: Every hour counts
„Stroke is not only the most frequent cause of lasting disability in Europe today, but it is also one of the three leading causes of death,” said Prof. Said. “These numbers show us clearly that stroke prevention and optimal treatment of patients has the highest priority, locally as well as globally.” If a patient is optimally treated, experts estimate, the lethality rate within three months after a stroke can be decreased from 25 to 30 percent currently to about ten percent.
Prof. Said reported that important new approaches to the therapy are being presented at the meeting in Lausanne. “An important result regarding treatment of strokes: The medication rTPA can disintegrate or thrombolyse a blood clot up to six hours after a stroke. To date this lysis medication has only been used up to three hours after a cerebral infarction.”
The stroke experts also see a lot of hope for the use of modern MRI imaging, that make the choice of patients suitable for treatment easier and that reduce the risk of bleeding.
New therapeutic approaches for Parkinson’s disease: Transformation of stem cells
Interesting research results on Parkinson’s disease were also presented at the ENS 2006: An international study with about 700 patients showed that a daily dose of the adjuvant drug Rasagilin can improve the motor function of Parkinson’s patients who have already been treated with Levodopa.
„Despite the numerous therapeutic possibilities existing treatments can only alleviate some of the disease symptoms, however, they can not stop the progression of the disorder or bring about their healing,” Prof. Said described the current problems. “New options might enable stem cell treatment as researchers showed at the ENS 2006.”
An Israeli team has developed a new method which transforms stem cells taken from the bone marrow of a patient into nervous cells producing Dopamine. So far the research team has managed to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in the laboratory tests. “With this technology the patient acts as his own donor,” said Prof. Said.
Birgit Kofler-Bettschart | alfa