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New drug is being investigating for multiple sclerosis treatment

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Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

According to a study published in PLoS ONE, researchers have made new progress in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. It seems that researchers at Karolinska Institutet have found that a new drug, imatinib, used to treat cancer, can improve and even slow the progression of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease characterized by relapses and remissions  that gradually lead to permanent neurological deficits. Most often multiple sclerosis starts with optic neuritis, that is by impaired vision, or paraparesis (motor deficit), vertigo, numbness or urinary disorders (acute urinary retention or incontinence). One thing worth noting is that multiple sclerosis can lead to any neurological symptom. In Sweden MS affects approximately 17,000 people usually aged between 20 and 40 years. There is no cure for this disease so that drugs currently in use are aimed to only improve symptoms.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis

In multiple sclerosis there is a change in blood-brain barrier permeability allowing the passage of white blood cells that attack myelin in the central nervous system. It seems that this autoimmune attack is directed not only on myelin but also on axons and oligodendrocytes. In this way progressive demyelination occurs, along with neuronal death and reactive gliosis which translate into different clinical neurological deficits.

Assistant Professor Ingrid Nilsson at Karolinska Institute’s Department of Medical Chemistry and Biophysics, says it is an urgent need for effective drugs with minimal side effects to help patients multiple sclerosis in their relapse period. Relapse treatment consists of administration of corticosteroids (methylprednisolone) for 3-5 days, while chronic treatment includes interferon, glatiramer acetate or immunosuppressants: cyclosporine, cyclophosphamide, metrotexat etc. These drugs have many important side effects (liver damage, cardiac toxicity, infertility, infections, etc.) and have limited effectiveness. Recently there have been approved new drugs to treat multiple sclerosis such as monoclonal antibodies (natalizumab).

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have tried to find a method to improve neurological symptoms by sealing the blood-brain barrier. They did many experiments on rats, that is they administered imatinib and found that the drug slows the progression of the disease and improves neurological symptoms. Also, imatinib has reduced the autoimmune reaction and the number of white blood cells that pass the blood-brain barrier. “Administering imatinib enabled us to slow down the progress of the disease and ameliorate neurological symptoms by preventing the influx of white blood cells from the blood into the nerve tissue,” said Dr. Nilsson. Because the drug proved effective,  researchers now want  to verify the efficacy of  imatinib in treating multiple sclerosis in clinical trials.