Tuesday June 11, 12:15 PM
Diabetes drugs have helped relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) in animals and have even prevented the development of the disease, say US scientists, prompting hopes of a new treatment for humans.
According to a study published in the journal Annals of Neurology, two drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes, called thiazolidinediones (TZDs), prevented the development of an animal model of MS in healthy mice and reduced symptoms in mice that were already ill.
Significantly, the research team from the University of Illinois and the West Side Veterans Administration Hospital, both in Chicago, found that the drugs were effective in two different models of the disease - a chronic form in which the mice became ill and remained ill, and a model in which the mice developed a relapsing form of the disease, which is similar to the more prevalent form of MS.
The causes of MS remain unclear, but researcher Professor Douglas Feinstein says it is known that when people have the condition, activated lymphocytes - white blood cells - in the bloodstream enter the brain. There they produce toxic substances that eventually cause damage to the myelin-forming cells of the brain, which insulate nerve fibres, and to neurons as well.
Researchers suspect TZDs reduce the symptoms of MS in mice by preventing the activation and growth of lymphocytes and reducing the production of inflammatory substances by activated brain cells.
Encouraged by the findings, scientists are designing a clinical trial to test the safety and proper dosage of the diabetic drugs in MS patients. Even if the drugs are only as good as those already in use, they still offer an advantage for patients because they can be taken orally, say scientists.
Prof Feinstein says, "The minimum we're hoping for is that they will be as good as any of the existing drugs. But there's a possibility they could prove to be better because this is a different class of drugs with different targets and effects."
The team is also investigating whether the drugs could be effective
in other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke.
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