An FDA-approved drug which is currently used for diabetes treatment has been found to show some protective effects in the brains of patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, researchers at Illinois opine.
This finding is based on a small, double-blinded clinical trial in which patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis were assigned to take the drug pioglitazone or a placebo.
Patients continued their normal course of therapy during the trial.
The researchers initially carried out standard neurological and MRI scans to provide baseline values for lesions typically seen in MS patients.
The patients were evaluated every two months, and blood samples were taken. Repeat MRI scans were done after five months and again after one year.
Patients taking the drug showed significantly less loss of grey matter over the course of the one-year trial than patients taking placebo.
Of the 21 patients who finished the study, patients taking the medicine did not show any adverse reactions. They found taking pioglitazone, which is administered in an oral tablet, easy.
"This is very encouraging. Grey matter in the brain is the part that is rich in neurons. These preliminary results suggest that the drug has important effects on neuronal survival," said Douglas Feinstein, research professor of anesthesiology at UIC.
The researchers revealed that they focused on pioglitazone because of its known anti-inflammatory effects.
They used primary cultures of brain cells to show that pioglitazone reduced the production of toxic chemicals called cytokines and reactive oxygen species, the molecules that are believed to be important in the development of symptoms in MS.
Feinstein's lab has shown that pioglitazone and other TZDs "can significantly reduce the clinical signs in mice with an MS-type disease."
"More importantly, when mice who are already ill are treated with pioglitazone, the clinical signs of the disease go away. We were able to induce almost complete remissions in a number of mice," he said.
"We are now working to determine the mechanisms to explain the protective effect on neurons that we see in our studies. We hope to expand into a larger trial to confirm these preliminary results," he added.
The study has been published in the online edition of the Journal of Neuroimmunology.