Fumaric acid salts have long been used to treat severe psoriasis. Now, researchers have found that the medication could also help in the fight against multiple sclerosis (MS).
A decade ago, researchers at Ruhr University, Bochum speculated that the drug could benefit MS due to their TH2 polarizing mechanisms.
Now, neurologists at RUB have found that fumaric acid salts detoxify radicals released during the inflammation process, thus protecting nerve and glial cells.
Like MS, psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attack the body's own cells. In MS, the 'insulating myelin layer' of the axons is destroyed in this way.
Prof. Ralf Gold at the Ruhr University Hospital, St. Josef Hospital, and colleagues found that the effect of the fumaric acid salts, unlike that of "standard medications" against MS, is not merely based on the suppression or the modulation of the immune system, but detoxifies damaging 'oxidative radicals' released during the inflammation processes and thus supports the survival of nerve cells.
The Nrf2 transcription factor plays a central role in this context.
"In this way, fumaric acid assumes a special position in the MS world as a neuro-protective/antioxidant substance," said Gold.
An international, placebo-controlled, blind study with 1,200 MS patients and the fumaric acid salt BG12 has just been completed under the leadership of Gold.
Evaluation is being expected for summer 2011.
"If the study is successful, one could easily imagine that the antioxidant effect of the fumaric acid also synergizes with established MS medication such as interferon-B thus forming an ideal combination therapy," said Gold.
"This is significant insofar as both fumarates as well as interferon do not contain any long-term risks according to the current state of knowledge - unlike many modern strong MS therapies," he added.
The study appears online in the current issue of neurology journal Brain.