By Allen C. Bowling MD PhD
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Additional resources for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis
It is essential to realize that scientific studies are imperfect and that therapies that are promising in scientific experiments are not necessarily clinically effective therapies for people with MS. A long list of experimental compounds are effective in suppressing the immune system or treating EAE but are ineffective for treating people with MS. Some therapies (for example, interferon-gamma, lenercept, and antibodies to tumor necrosis factor [TNF]) are effective in treating animal models of MS but actually worsen disease in people with MS.
In contrast to MS, AIDS and cancer may benefit from treatment that activates the immune system. Thus, in general, immune-stimulating therapies that may be helpful for AIDS and cancer may actually be harmful for MS. ■ Do not confuse scientific evidence with clinical evidence. Potential MS therapies may be evaluated scientifically through “test tube” experiments or by using an animal model of MS known as experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE). The most important (and most expensive and laborious) test of a therapy, however, is to give it to people with MS and to carefully monitor their response.
Many forms of conventional medical therapy have undergone rigorous testing for effectiveness and safety. In contrast, data are limited for most CAM therapies, especially in terms of specialized studies of people with MS or studies of the effects of therapies on immune-system activity. As a result, often it is only possible to make a “best guess” about the effectiveness and safety of CAM. As more studies are done on CAM, some of these “best guesses” may be found to be incorrect. For example, a therapy that is currently thought to be “possibly effective” or “probably safe” may conceivably be found, after further studies, to be definitely ineffective or definitely unsafe.