Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. When this lining, called myelin, is damaged, communication between nerve cells can be interrupted. The result is muscle weakness and problems with coordination and vision.
Experts estimate that almost half a million people nationwide live with multiple sclerosis. Existing drugs can relieve symptoms for a while by calming the immune system. But in most people, the disease worsens over time. Recently, researchers are developing drugs that can repair the myelin and reverse the disease.
Multiple Sclerosis: Is A Drug Cure Possible?
Scientists at Case Western Reserve University initially found that miconazole, an antifungal drug, activated stem cells and repaired myelin damage in mice. How does this drug affect the myelin coating?
They found that miconazole and eight other related drugs all blocked an enzyme called CYP51. Blocking CYP51 then activated stem cells to form new connections, called oligodendrocytes. Oligodendrocytes are cells that manufacture the protective myelin coatings around nerve cells and allow them to talk to each other.
The boost in oligodendrocyte production was traced to an increase of a specific type of cholesterol sterol (called 8,9-unsaturated sterols). When stem cells were treated with 8,9-unsaturated sterols, oligodendrocyte production increased.
Multiple Sclerosis: Finding The Magic Drug
The team next screened over 3,000 drugs for their ability to increase oligodendrocyte production. The top ten drugs all increased 8,9-unsaturated sterols.
When tested on human stem cells grown in the laboratory, certain drugs increased oligodendrocyte production. In mice with damage to myelin in their spinal cords, injection of drugs that targeted and reduced CYP51, restored and repaired the damaged myelin tissue.
Exciting news and these researchers have formed a company to build on these findings and develop therapeutics to promote myelin repair.