Multiple Sclerosis Research

Mitchel Williams portraitWhile multiple sclerosis (MS) generally begins in adulthood, pediatric-onset MS is more common than you may think. Approximately five percent of all people with MS in the United States are children – that's 10,000 to 15,000 children. "And that number is probably underestimated because MS can be difficult to diagnose," said Mitchel T. Williams, M.D., a pediatric neurologist specializing in MS and neuroimmunology at the Children's Hospital of Michigan.

Dr. Williams and the Children’s Hospital of Michigan are preparing to participate in an international, multi-center clinical trial of two medications already approved by the FDA for use in adults with MS. Pediatric centers in North America, Europe, South America and Asia will participate in a two-year, double-blinded, randomized study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the medications Avonex™ and Gilenya™ in pediatric patients with MS. Dr. Williams is the primary investigator for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan site.

“There are currently no medications approved by the FDA for use in children with MS,” Dr. Williams said. “We use these medications to treat children with MS, but the drugs have not been FDA approved for pediatric patients. This will be one of the world’s first clinical trials of the efficacy and safety of MS medications in children.”

The research comes at a time when more and more neurologists are recognizing the importance of starting children with MS on disease-modifying treatment in its earliest stages.

“We’re just now recognizing that children with MS can develop cognitive problems – difficulty with learning, memory and other executive functions of the brain. Children also develop more physical deficits in a shorter time period as compared to adults, so it’s very important to start treatment as soon as the disease is confirmed,” Dr. Williams said. “Our hope for this clinical trial is that we will be able to establish that these medications are not only safe, but also effective in altering the course of MS in children and improving their quality of life and preventing long-term disability.”

Dr. Williams and his colleagues in the Department of Pediatric Neurology expect to begin enrolling patients in the two-year study by summer of 2014.

Other MS research currently underway at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan uses Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning and a special radiotracer that can identify inflammation in the central nervous system. “We’re applying this to children with MS as a potential biomarker for the disease,” Dr. Williams said. “Thanks to our pediatric PET Center, we’re one of the only children’s hospitals in North America capable of performing this research.”

Dr. Williams said data from a pilot study using this diagnostic technique was very promising. He and his colleagues now plan to transition from a pilot study to a more prospective, wider-scale study. They expect to begin enrolling patients soon.

Specialized Care for Children with MS

The Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Neuroimmunology Center at the Children's Hospital of Michigan is a comprehensive center that specializes in diagnosing and treating pediatric demyelinating and autoimmune disorders involving the brain and nervous system.

For further information or to schedule an appointment call (313) 745-KIDS or toll-free at (888) 362-2500 or visit the Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology Center.