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Researchers report that an experimental compound (a derivative of fullerene, a form of carbon molecule) reduced disease progression, as well as damage to nerve fibers and their myelin insulation, when administered to mice with a progressive MS-like disease. Alexandre Basso, PhD, Howard Weiner, PhD (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston) and colleagues report these findings inThe Journal of Clinical Investigation(early online publication, March 13, 2008). The study was partly funded by a National MS Society research grant.
Currently, few treatment options exist for progressive stages of MS. The disability seen in progressive forms of MS is thought to be caused by degeneration of nerve fibers. This team is testing the effects of “ABS-75,” a fullerene derivative that combines the power of an anti-oxidant with a compound that can block the activity of the natural chemical glutamate, a nerve transmitter that in excess can cause injury. Fullerenes have been shown to protect nerve fibers from injury in some rodent models of stroke, and ABS-75 in particular has been shown to enter the brain efficiently.
The Boston team administered ABS-75 to mice after inducing a chronic, progressive form of EAE similar to secondary-progressive MS*. Treatment reduced symptom progression, as well as nerve fiber loss and myelin damage in the spinal cord. In rat nerve cells isolated in the laboratory, ABS-75 also protected the cells from a type of injury caused by glutamate. Glutamate levels are increased in progressive forms of MS and there is evidence to suggest that this represents a mechanism by which nerve cell degeneration occurs in MS.
Because other drugs that block glutamate activity have been shown to affect memory functions, the team also performed experiments to determine if treatment had an impact on memory, and found no impairment after 40 days of treatment.
This novel study represents a different approach to preventing the progressive stages of MS. More research is needed to determine whether this new approach to treating MS would be effective and safe in people.
*SP MS: Secondary-progressive MS, an initial period of relapsing-remitting MS, followed by a steadily worsening disease course with or without occasional flare-ups or minor recoveries.
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