What research is being done?
The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease. The NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the leading supporter of biomedical research in the world.
Although there is no cure for myasthenia gravis, management of the disorder has improved over the past 30 years. There is a greater understanding of the causes, structure, and function of the neuromuscular junction, the fundamental aspects of the thymus gland, and of autoimmunity. Technological advances have led to more timely and accurate diagnosis of myasthenia gravis and new and enhanced therapies have improved treatment options. Researchers are working to develop better medications, identify new ways to diagnose and treat individuals and improve treatment options.
Some people with myasthenia gravis do not respond favorably to available treatment options, which usually include long-term suppression of the immune system. New drugs are being tested, either alone or in combination with existing drug therapies, to see if they are more effective in targeting the causes of the disease.
Diagnostics and biomarkers
In addition to developing new medications, researchers are trying to find better ways to diagnose and treat this disorder. For example, NINDS-funded researchers are exploring the assembly and function of connections between nerves and muscle fibers to understand the fundamental processes in neuromuscular development. This research could reveal new therapies for neuromuscular diseases like myasthenia gravis.
Researchers are also exploring better ways to treat myasthenia gravis by developing new tools to diagnose people with undetectable antibodies and identify potential biomarkers (signs that can help diagnose or measure the progression of a disease) to predict an individual’s response to immunosuppressive drugs.
New treatment options
Findings from a recent NINDS-supported study yielded conclusive evidence about the benefits of surgery for individuals without thymoma, a subject that had been debated for decades. Researchers hope that this trial will become a model for rigorously testing other treatment options and that other studies will continue to examine different therapies to see if they are superior to standard care options.
Assistive technologies, such as magnetic devices, may also help people with myasthenia gravis to control some symptoms of the disorder.