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Leukaemia treatment may combat multiple sclerosis

23rd October 2008

A DRUG used to treat leukaemia can also combat the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis, new research has found.

The findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine will bring fresh hope to many of the UK’s 100,000 MS sufferers.

Led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, the study found a drug called alemtuzumab can stop MS advancing in patients in the early stages of the condition.

MS causes the immune system to attack the protective coating around nerve fibres which prevents messages being transmitted between the brain and other parts of the body.

Symptoms of the disease can include loss of physical skills, sensation, vision, bladder control and intellectual abilities. A three-year trial of the drug on MS patients showed it can also restore lost function, reversing some of the effects of the condition.

Researchers compared the effectiveness of alemtuzumab with interferon beta-1a, a leading MS treatment.

They found patients treated with alemtuzumab were 74 per cent less likely to experience relapses than those taking interferon beta-1a.

Remarkably, the risk of disability was reduced by 71 per cent among those given the new drug, with many less disabled after three years than at the beginning of the trial.

This suggests alemtuzumab may allow damaged brain tissue to repair and restore lost nerve function.

The findings show alemtuzumab is much more effective than interferon beta-1a in treating early-stage relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. The drug helps to stop damage to brain tissue by destroying white blood cells called lymphocytes which helps to shut down the immune system.

Dr Alasdair Coles, lecturer at the university’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences, said: “The ability of an MS drug to promote brain repair is unprecedented.

“We are witnessing a drug which, if given early enough, might effectively stop the advancement of the disease and also restore lost function by promoting repair of the damaged brain tissue.”

The MS Society said the results of the trial will bring hope to many thousands of people living with the condition. Researchers said more studies are needed before the drug could be considered for approval.

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