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Drug May Slow Down Multiple Sclerosis

Progression of MS May Be Slowed by Drug Now Used by Transplant Patients
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 12, 2005 -- An immune system-suppressing drug may slow progression of multiple sclerosis, new research suggests.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers showed that new brain lesions that indicate multiple sclerosis (MS) progression were reduced by more than half in 12 of 14 patients treated with the drug Imuran.

The drug is now used primarily to prevent rejection in transplant patients and in the treatment of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders.

Imuran has been studied by MS investigators for several decades. Previous studies have shown that Imuran can reduce relapses in patients with multiple sclerosis. However, the new research is the first to show that the drug can slow disease progression by decreasing the presence of new lesions.

Study researchers say their findings are similar to other studies' results looking at the use of injectable interferon-beta and brain lesions in MS. But a spokesman for the National MS Society tells WebMD that larger studies are needed to prove this.

"If these findings are confirmed then we would have a less expensive oral medication that is of comparable benefit to the current treatments," says John Richert, MD. "These data show that it is worthwhile to invest the resources to try and prove that this drug alters disease progression."

About MS

It is not clear what causes MS, but most experts now believe it to be an autoimmune disease - one in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the person's own tissue rather than foreign invaders.

It is believed that inflammation drives the destruction of the protective coating, known as myelin, surrounding the nerves in key areas of the brain and spinal cord. This destruction leaves the nerves unable to send electrical signals. This results in problems such as muscle movement, coordination, balance, vision, memory, and thinking.

In its later stages MS can leave patients paralyzed, but it is not usually fatal.

Reducing Brain Lesions

The patients in the new study had the most common form of the disease, known as relapsing-remitting MS. During relapses, new symptoms can appear and old ones often resurface or worsen.

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