These promising new findings appear in the Dec. 21 issue of the Annals of Neurology.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, remains somewhat of a medical mystery. The disease is characterized by inflammation that causes the protective coating around nerve cells to deteriorate. This leads to scarring and, eventually, nerve loss. The symptoms of MS depend on which nerves are affected, and vary greatly from person to person. But a cause and a cure remain elusive.
Minocycline is already used to treat several different infections, but it's also effective in rheumatoid arthritis -- an inflammatory condition. Because of this anti-inflammatory property, researchers gave minocycline to rats with a disease that closely resembles the inflammatory process of human MS.
In a news release, senior researcher Ian D. Duncan, PhD, says that animals treated with minocycline did not develop the nerve problems, or had a less severe case, than did untreated rats. Duncan is a neurology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The results also showed that they could treat the animals successfully either before or after the disease began, says Duncan. So in humans, the drug could potentially help patients already diagnosed with MS by preventing symptoms from worsening.
MS treatments have become more effective in the past few years, but one of the biggest obstacles has been finding one that can actually stop the disease from progressing.
The hope is that minocycline may be able to significantly decrease the severity of attacks in MS or even block relapses completely. By doing so, it could relieve many of the symptoms, from paralysis to blindness, that plague people with this crippling disease.
Studies of minocycline in humans with MS will begin next year at the University of Calgary, Canada.
"It is very important that a well-conducted clinical trial is carried out to test whether it is safe and [effective] in MS," says Duncan.
He adds that minocycline would have advantages over drugs presently used because it's less expensive, can be taken by mouth, and could be used short-term to stop disease progression.