nervous system, ms
National Institutes of Health
Illustration of the nervous system

MS Breakthrough Offers Hope for New Treatment

August 26, 2009 07:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
British researchers have discovered that a protein-like molecule in the brain resists the spread of multiple sclerosis. The discovery, which could lead to the production of a powerful MS drug in the future, is the latest breakthrough in the search for an MS cure.

Galanin Key to Controlling MS

Scientists at the University of Bristol in England say that they made a breakthrough in the search for a cure for multiple sclerosis (MS), detailed in a study released Aug. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In researching the effect of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a disease similar to MS, on mice, they found that mice with high levels of galanin, a neuropeptide (small protein-like molecule) located within brain nerve cells, were “completely resistant” to the disease.

“The results were really remarkable: rarely do you see such a dramatic effect as this. Mice with high levels of galanin just didn’t develop any signs of disease,” said professor David Wraith, one of the study’s authors.

The scientists said that it will be at least 10 years before a drug using galanin would reach the market. “We have a lot more to do to figure out how this works but the results are extremely promising,” said Wraith.

Asked about the study, Dr. Doug Brown, research manager at the MS Society, told the BBC, “This is an early study and there's a long way to go before we understand what this means for people with MS, but any insight into how MS might be treated is valuable to researchers. This is worth further investigation.”

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, affects more than 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide.

MS causes the body’s immune system to turn on itself and attack myelin, the layer of insulating tissue that protects the nerve fibers surrounding the spinal cord and brain, resulting in a variety of symptoms that may include muscle weakness, blurred vision, difficulty walking, depression and paralysis.

The findingDulcinea Web Guide to Multiple Sclerosis offers links to sites that explain how MS is diagnosed, suggests ways to live with MS, and helps people connect to others who have it. There are also sites that offer support and help for caregivers.

Background: MS stem cell breakthrough

In January, researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine announced that they had success in controlling and in some cases reversing the spread of multiple sclerosis symptoms using adult stem cells. Their findings were published in a study in The Lancet Neurology.

Researchers harvested stem cells from patient suffering from early-stage MS, and then removed immune cells that were attacking the nervous system. The immune stem cells were then transplanted back into their bodies, “thereby ‘resetting’ their immune systems,” according to the Northwestern press release.

In the three-year study, none of the 21 adult subjects deteriorated and 81 percent improved. “This is the first time we have turned the tide on this disease,” said Dr. Richard Burt, the lead researcher.

Burt told the BBC that the key to treating the disease was to treat it early. “I think the reversal is the brain repairing itself. Once you're at the progressive stage you have exceeded the ability of the brain to repair itself,” he said.

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