Following a report of the efficacy of total lymphoid irradiation (TLI) in the treatment of chronic progressive multiple sclerosis a further randomised double-blind placebo-controlled study was undertaken with the intention of entering 56 patients. In the event it was possible to recruit only 27 patients in a 2.5 year period. Three patients received active treatment openly and 24 were randomised to either active (14) or sham (10) treatment. Treatment was 1980 cGy to the lymphoid system and spleen or sham treatment after full simulation. The primary outcome measure was a comparison of the mean rates of change between treatment groups on the expanded Kurtzke disability scale (EDSS) over the two year follow up period. Patients were also assessed on other clinical outcome measures, psychometry, and serial MRI of the brain. Active treatment resulted in a profound and prolonged fall in T lymphocytes especially those with the CD4 marker and a reversal in CD4:CD8 ratio. No significant benefit was demonstrated on the rate of clinical disease progression (EDSS). A small but significant benefit was found on a score of bladder function. No significant benefit was demonstrated on other clinical or psychometric indices or on subjective visual analogue scales. There was a small but significant difference in the rate of accumulation of lesions on brain MRI favouring the treatment group. The treated group had a higher incidence of clinically relevant side effects, notably amenorrhoea and infections: three deaths (one in the TLI group, two in the sham treated group) occurred. A post hoc calculation indicates that the study had a possible 35% risk of a false negative result using the principal outcome measure. The study fails to confirm the previously reported clinical benefit of TLI although there may be a minor benefit on disease progression as indicated by MRI lesion counts. It is concluded that TLI cannot be recommended for the routine treatment of chronic progressive multiple sclerosis but the beneficial effect on MRI lesions, though modest, suggests that further research into immune modulation of this condition may be worthwhile.
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