Multiple Sclerosis Model Responds to Topical Skin Drugs
Two topical skin drugs that are already approved for dermatology purposes could be beneficial for people with multiple sclerosis. The finding comes from a research team at Case Western Reserve.
The investigators made their discovery as they evaluated 727 previously known drugs to see which ones might have the ability to “catalyze the body’s own stem cells to replace the cells lost in multiple sclerosis,” according to one of the study’s authors, Paul Tesar, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Genetics & Genome Sciences at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.
Basically, researchers want to replace myelin, the protective coating on nerve cells. People with multiple sclerosis experience demyelination, which means the myelin is damaged and destroyed and therefore neural signals cannot be transmitted properly.
Demyelination leads to symptoms of MS such as difficulty walking, bowel and bladder problems, vision loss, spasticity, numbness, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunction, and balance challenges, among others. Preventing, stopping, and even reversing demyelination has been the goal of many research projects.
In this new study, the researchers found they could use already approved drugs to stimulate a person’s native stem cells in their nervous system and direct them to make new myelin. Tesar noted that “Our ultimate goal was to enhance the body’s ability to repair itself.”
The two drugs chosen were miconazole and clobetasol. The former is found in over-the-counter medications that fight fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot. Clobetasol is available by prescription to treat eczema, scalp problems, and other skin conditions.
The investigators found that both miconazole and clobetasol could stimulate oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) to form new myelinating cells. Oligodendrocytes are myelin-forming cells in the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system), and new oligodendrocytes originate from OPCs.
Both drugs caused native OPCs to make new myelin in the lab mice that had a multiple sclerosis-like disease. Robert Miller, PhD, a co-author of the study and a neurosciences faculty member at Case Western Reserve, noted that “It was a striking reversal of disease severity in the mice,” and that the study “represents a paradigm shift in how we think about restoring function to multiple sclerosis patients.”
How these drugs will work in humans is not yet known, but the researchers have tested them using human stem cells and observed a response similar to the one they saw in mice. Now scientists are left with the task of applying what they’ve learned from this work, finding how to transform the topical drugs for internal use, and conducting human clinical trials.
Also read about alternative treatments for MS
Kapoor R et al. Phenytoin is neuroprotective in acute optic neuritis: results of a phase 2 randomized controlled trial. American Academy of Neurology 67th annual meeting abstract 2015 April 16