A host of brain disorders that raise their ugly head in adults are known to ravage lives of scores of people worldwide. The functional errors in neural networks of adult brain are known to cause disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s chorea and Epilepsy.
This progressive disease of the central nervous system affects people in the prime of life between 15 and 40 years. The impending doom manifests itself with symptoms ranging from tingling sensation, numbness of parts of body, slight blurring of vision, slurred speech, muscle weakness, poor coordination, unusual fatigue, muscle cramps, spasms, problems with bladder, bowel, sexual functions to complete paralysis.
In this disease there is damage to myelin—a fatty substance which surrounds and protects nerve fibers in the same way that insulation protects electrical wires. When any part of this myelin is destroyed, nerve impulses to the brain are interrupted and distorted. This disease is believed to be caused by a virus that, in some way, is linked with the virus causing ‘distemper’, a common disease in dogs. This belief is based on several identical observations that an epidemic of distemper in dogs is usually followed by an epidemic of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) amongst the inhabitants of that region. This association of Multiple Sclerosis with the distemper virus has been further proved by the fact that many MS patients have had contact with pet dogs for more that 10 years before contracting the disease. The symptoms however, develop any time between one to 20 years after contact with infected dogs. It is, therefore, wise to vaccinate dogs against distemper as a step towards prevention of this disability disease.
Another hypothesis qualifies Multiple Sclerosis to be an auto immune disease—one in which the body produces protective protein molecules called ‘antibodies’ against some of its own body constituents, unlike the normal state where the body’s defence forces are alerted only to an unwelcome foreign invader. The immune machinery is affected in such a way whereby the otherwise trained immune cells find themselves incapable of distinguishing self from non-self. In essence, some unknown constituents of myelin are mistaken to be as foreign by the immune cells and consequently, are attacked by antibodies termed as ‘auto-antibodies’.
Several efforts have been made in this direction to discover the constituents of myelin that apparently pose as foreign to the body. One such scientific endeavour has been amply rewarded. The credit goes to a research team of the centre for Neuro-chemistry in Strasbourg, who in cooperation with a group of medical scientists, have discovered a molecule known as CSL (Cerebellar Soluble Lectin).
Nearing a medical breakthrough, the team observed in more than 93 per cent of cases the presence of antibodies directed against this particular molecule in the cerebral fluid of patients suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. This discovery has also been used to develop a simple, rapid biological test that allows early diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
For understanding the mechanisms involved in the origin and the progress of Multiple Sclerosis, technologies are important which could enable brain cells to grow under laboratory conditions. In most tissues of the body, cells damaged by any cause are replaced by new cells. Unfortunately, this is not so with the cells of the nervous system. These cells do not have the capacity to divide and multiply. Therefore, cells dying due to disease or injury cannot be replaced by new cells resulting into suspension of body functions dependent upon those cells. For instance, if the cells in the brain that control the movements of an arm are damaged, the arm is permanently paralyzed.
Not only do the brain cells fail to multiply in the body, but even worse is that they cannot be grown under artificial conditions, of a culture media. This has been a major impediment in the way of unfolding the secret of brain cells. Astonishingly, however, this tough battle seems to have been won by the scientists in Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, who have succeeded in isolating a certain kind of human brain cells which can grow and multiply in the laboratory, under conditions of proper nourishment and cultivation. These significant discoveries, have given an optimistic shade to the future endeavours that may lead to new approaches to the cure of Multiple Sclerosis and other related diseases of the central nervous system.