MS research ‘Holy Grail’: Diabetes drug helps repair damaged myelin

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Great news on the research front is that a diabetes drug potentially has a vital role to play in the fight against multiple sclerosis.

A study, part-funded by the UK’s MS Society, has revealed that the drug pioglitazone could help through its ability to protect nerves from damage.

Those of us living with MS are well aware that the protective myelin coating around our nerves has been damaged. and made our nerves vulnerable to further damage. In time, this causes disability.

Now, the MS Society says that, for the first time, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have shown nerves have the natural ability to boost their energy supplies after being damaged – and that pioglitazone can help them do that.

The MS Society explains: “They (the nerves) do this by moving mitochondria (the energy powerhouse of cells) to the damaged part of the nerve fibre. The researchers called this process ARMD (axonal response of mitochondria to demyelination).”


Dr Don Mahad.

Dr Don Mahad, from the MS Society Edinburgh Centre for MS Research, said: “Although our understanding of MS has vastly improved over the last few decades, new therapies still do not protect nerve fibres. Such protection is the Holy Grail in MS treatment – not only for the relapsing form of MS, which has various options available, but for progressive forms too, where treatment continues to lag behind.

Incredibly important discovery

“Our discovery shows that nerves respond to myelin damage by increasing the movement of energy producing mitochondria to the area of damage – a response which we term ‘ARMD’. Remarkably, we were able to enhance ARMD and protect these vulnerable nerves using the readily available diabetes drug pioglitazone. We believe this is an incredibly important discovery, which could finally bridge the gap between myelin damage and myelin repair.”

So, an exciting development, but what does this mean for you and I – people with MS? Let’s not get carried away, although potentially a giant leap forward, research always takes time to bear fruit.

This research was done in mice and in cells grown in a dish, so early days. But pioglitazone is also being tested in clinical trial of people with progressive MS in the US (called TRAP-MS), to see whether it can target the immune system attacks on myelin.


Dr Emma Gray MS Society.

Dr Emma Gray, MS Society assistant director of research, said: “This represents another important stride towards our goal of stopping MS – and we believe that MS treatment could in the near future look completely different.

“People with MS will be prescribed a combination of therapies that work on every aspect of the condition: stopping immune attacks and relapses, protecting nerves from damage, and regenerating lost myelin. It will mean no one needs to worry about their MS getting worse.

“Currently, there are no effective neuroprotective therapies available for MS, but Dr Mahad’s research demonstrates we are getting closer – and finding treatments for everyone with MS is now a very real pros pect.”

Note that “everyone with MS”. Potentially, this could be a treatment for all types of MS.

You can read the paper in full on the SpringerLink website.

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Please note that being born in the UK, all my posts, are written using British English spelling.

For example:

Centre      not center (except in names, Centers of Disease Control)    Colour                               not color                                                                                     Diarrhoea                       not diarrhea                                                      Haematology                not hematology                                                                          Haematopoietic          not hematopoietic

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. More recently, he was a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Ian is not a doctor, so cannot and does not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely his own unless otherwise stated.


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