An experimental drug, laquinimod, appears to prevent or slow the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) in mice, according to a new study.
"This study has given us more insight into how laquinimod works," said study author Dr Scott Zamvil, of the University of California, San Francisco. "But because this was an animal study, more research needs to be done before we know if it could have similar results in people."
Still, "these results are promising because they provide hope for people with progressive MS, an advanced version of the disease for which there is currently no treatment," Zamvil said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology.
A healthy immune system has T cells and B cells that help the body prevent infections. However, for people with MS, these cells create antibodies that attack and destroy the protective outer coating (myelin) that surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
In the new study, Zamvil's team used 50 mice bred to develop a spontaneous form of MS. The mice received either a daily dose of oral laquinimod, or a placebo (water). The investigators then analysed and counted the rodents' T cells and B cells.
Only 29 percent of the mice taking laquinimod developed MS compared to 58 percent of those given the placebo, the study found.
The researchers believe that the drug may help prevent MS, since there was a 96 percent reduction in harmful clusters of B cells – which are only found in people with MS.
In a second experiment that involved 22 mice, Zamvil's group gave the animals laquinimod after they had experienced some MS-linked paralysis. The disease progression among the mice slowed significantly as a result, the findings showed.
Dr Paul Wright is chair of neurology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York. He reviewed the new findings and agreed that laquinimod "may provide a neuroprotective effect".
Wright said that "this is a very promising study and provides us with insight into a novel medication that may have benefit for patients with this devastating disease". However, the research was "performed in mice, and human studies need to be performed to confirm the effects and ensure human tolerability of the medication," he added.
The study was published online in the journal Neurology, Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation.