15 July 2004
Scientists have developed a treatment which may eventually rescue multiple sclerosis victims from what is often an inexorable slide towards a wheelchair.
The treatment, pioneered at the Auckland Medical School, produced a complete recovery in mice which had been paralysed by a similar disease.
If it also works in people, it could transform the lives of 2.5 million people who now suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) around the world, 3000 of them in New Zealand.
The mystery disease makes the body's immune system attack the protective coating around its own nerve cells, causing bouts of blurred eyesight, balance problems and eventually paralysis which get worse with every new attack.
Paralysed Aucklander sufferer Carolyn Ryan called the breakthrough "really exciting".
"It sounds to me as though it's a very special thing, because as far as I know, no one has come up with a way to actually treat people who already have got damaged nerves," she said. "It's really revolutionary."
Auckland medical researcher Dr Tom Miller, research director of the MS Society until recently, said the new treatment was the first time anyone had been able to reverse the deterioration in the health of an MS victim, rather than just slow it down.
Associate Professor Geoff Krissansen, who led the research team, said existing treatments all attacked only one part of the problem.
His team's approach, published in the Oxford journal Brain, combines two elements:
An antibody that prevents white blood cells of the immune system from breaking into the body's central nervous system when they get confused.
Two "neuroprotectors", a widely used chemical NBQX and a molecule, glypromate, which is part of a growth factor occurring naturally in the body, which protect individual nerve cells from attack and allow the body to rebuild the nerves' protective coatings.
"It's the combination of the two neuroprotectors which seems to be critical, because both the neurons and the cells that repair them have to be protected," Dr Krissansen said.
"You can actually see the new myelin (protective coating) being laid down."
The treatment requires a continuous injection of the two neuroprotectors and injection of the antibodies every two or three days.
Dr Krissansen, a molecular researcher who also studies cancer and other diseases, has worked on MS for the past seven years.
He said progress was slow until Indian scientist Dr Jagat Kanwar, "an extremely good experimentalist", joined the team soon after moving to New Zealand with his wife Dr Rupinder Kanwar, who is also part of the team.
The project got another boost when the Royal Society awarded Dr Krissansen a rare James Cook Fellowship to work on the research fulltime in 1998-99, followed by a Marsden grant from 2000 to 2002.
Patents for the treatment have been given to Neuren Pharmaceuticals (formerly Neuronz), based in the medical school's Liggins Institute.
Neuren chief scientist Dr Peter Gluckman said the company hoped to start phase one clinical trials of glypromate next year, but he said NBQX would never enter clinical trials.
"It's not clear that the combination does require both. There are many drug companies working on this," he said.
"But we will, in time, develop trials for the combination if it makes sense."
Dr Krissansen said it would be at least 10 years before the treatment got through all the trials required for general use with MS patients.
MS Society medical director Dr Ernie Willoughby said patients were often frustrated by the need to wait, but would be encouraged by the fact that the society was helping to fund such cutting-edge research in New Zealand.
"It's kind of exciting that we can get work done here that's innovative and interesting," he said.
"Not all the treatments or effects in the animal model have always worked out in humans. It's too early to say whether it's going to be a breakthrough in human MS. But it's potentially exciting."
Original article can be found here: http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,2971969a11,00.htmlSubmitted 7/14/2004 4:08:03 PM