Yahoo! News Health Headlines Friday January 29 6:16 PM ET
NEW YORK, Jan 29 (Reuters Health) -- In laboratory trials, the drug eliprodil appears to help repair the nerve demyelination associated with multiple sclerosis, researchers report.
A study in mice shows that the drug can promote the growth of myelin, a fatty substance found in protective layers around many nerves throughout the body. In multiple sclerosis, the myelin sheath around nerves is lost, and this is thought to contribute to the symptoms of the disease, which include weakness, blurred vision, fatigue, poor balance and paralysis.
"These results have to be confirmed in animal tests, but this strategy is certainly very promising," said study senior author Dr. Catherine Lubetzki of the Universit Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris, France. The findings are published in the journal Neurology.
In their study, Lubetzki and her colleagues examined the effect of the experimental drug eliprodil on mouse brain cells grown in laboratory culture.
The authors explain that 'neuroprotective' agents like eliprodil stimulate signaling between nerve cells. Because "neuronal signals appear to be mandatory for myelination (the growth of new myelin sheathing)," they speculated that eliprodil might increase myelinization rates in mouse brain cells.
That theory seems to be supported by the results of the study. The authors report that "eliprodil induced a two-fold increase in myelination" during laboratory tests.
The researchers stress, however, that the drug is only able to repair damage -- it cannot stop the loss of myelin that characterizes multiple sclerosis. "(We) obviously must discover how to stop the process that causes demyelination," Lubetzki explained. But she added that "it may be that this new strategy could limit the progression of the disease."
Eliprodil is not yet commercially available, and the results of these early studies must be repeated in animal trials before scientists can draw any firm conclusions regarding the drug's effectiveness.
The study was supported in part by Syntholabe Recherche, the French manufacturers of eliprodil.
Multiple sclerosis affects over 300,000 Americans. The cause of the disease is still unknown.
SOURCE: Neurology 1999;52:346-350.
Copyright © 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.