Multiple sclerosis (MS) happens when the body's immune system attacks a protein known as myelin, which surround the nerve fiber in the brain and spinal cord and which results in the disruption of the nerve signals. As the condition worsens, it produces symptoms that range from mild numbness to paralysis. It can even be fatal.

Drugs that are found in skin creams that treat eczema and athlete's foot, however, may offer hope to MS patients as these have been shown to reverse the condition. Scientists hope that the discovery could pave way for new therapies that could address the auto-immune disease that affect about 100,000 people in UK alone.

In a new study published in the journal Nature on April 20, Paul Tesar, from the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, and colleagues have found that the antifungal agent miconazole and the steroid clobetasol were able to restore the movement of mice that were paralyzed by a rodent version of MS. In tests, the drugs prompted the stems cells to regenerate myelin that the disease destroyed.

"Both drugs enhance the generation of human oligodendrocytes from human oligodendrocyte progenitor cells in vitro," the researchers wrote. "Collectively, our results provide a rationale for testing miconazole and clobetasol, or structurally modified derivatives, to enhance remyelination in patients."

Both drugs can be found in creams and ointments but the researchers find it necessary to determine how they can be used safely as internal human treatments. The researchers said that while some patients and their family may feel impatient waiting for the development of treatment for the condition, they warned that the off label use of these drugs in their current forms may likely raise other health concerns instead of alleviating the symptoms of MS.

The researchers were able to identify the two drugs after screening over 700 potential drug candidates. Besides as treatment for MS, which remains incurable, the drugs can also be used to treat other diseases that are characterized by myelin loss or dysfunction and these include dementia, cerebral palsy, optic neuritis and schizophrenia.

"Potential myelin repair therapies that have been identified in laboratory and animal model studies," said MS Society Research Communications Manager Sorrel Bickley. "The next step will be to test these treatments in clinical trials to establish whether they can bring real benefits in slowing or stopping the progression of MS."

Photo: Joe Crawford | Flickr

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