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SA Time: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 12:30:33 AM
Drug that could stop MS discovered

May 9 2011 at 09:24pm
By Fiona Macrae
Copy of st lab


Breakthrough: Scientists are hopeful that they ve found a way of stopping multiple sclerosis in its tracks

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London - A drug that could stop multiple sclerosis in its tracks has been discovered by scientists.

In a major breakthrough in the battle against the devastating disease, researchers have pinpointed the chemical “driving force” behind MS.

Without it, the disease does not develop. And when it is mopped up, symptoms are greatly eased, even in brains already ravaged by the illness.

The results come from experiments on mice but the researchers say they are “quietly optimistic” that taking the same tack will help people with MS. The first trials on patients are pencilled in for later this year.

The debilitating condition affects 2.5 million people around the world, and can cause blindness and paralysis. Current drugs are not suitable for all and there is no cure.

The excitement centres on two studies published recently which show an immune system chemical called GM-CSF to be the “vital piece in the jigsaw” of MS.

In the healthy body, it is part of our defence against disease, attacking viruses and other invaders. But in MS, it triggers a series of reactions that culminate in “scavenger cells” destroying myelin - the fatty protective sheath around nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord - which disrupts the transmission of messages from the brain.

When Swiss researcher Burkhard Becher gave an antibody that counters GM-CSF to mice with an MS-like condition, it greatly improved their health.

Professor Becher, of the University of Zurich, said: “It is relatively easy to stop mice from getting the disease, so we waited until they had the disease and were pretty sick. This is similar to the clinical situation - patients don’t go to the doctor because they think they might get MS, they go when they have MS.”

The drug was also given to mice whose disease was similar to the most common form of MS, in which relapses are followed by periods of remission. Here, mopping up the GM-CSF prevented any further relapses, the journal Nature Immunology reports.

Becher said: “We are extremely hopeful but whether this form of therapy will actually help MS patients remains to be seen. Quiet optimism is the way to go.

“I am not sure this is going to work in patients but, based on the mouse data, I believe GM-CSF is a good thing to target.”

A German firm, which has no connections to the professor, is already trying to use antibodies against the chemical to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It plans to start tests on MS patients at the end of this year.

It usually takes at least seven years from when a drug is first tried out on patients until it hits the market.

A second study, from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, also points the finger at GM-CSF.

Although the chemical was known to play a role in MS, its pivotal contribution was not understood until now.

“This is a very interesting development,” said Dr Doug Brown, of the MS Society in the UK. “It is early days and there is still a lot of work to be done before we fully understand what it means for people with MS, but it is satisfying to see that trials are already planned and we look forward to seeing how these progress.”

Mopping up excess GM-CSF may also help treat other conditions, including diabetes, it is hoped. – Daily Mail

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