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Sunday, 23 December, 2001, 23:57 GMT
Antibiotic may treat MS
Pills, BBC
The drug could be taken as a pill
A common antibiotic may have potential as a treatment for multiple sclerosis, research suggests.

The drug, minocycline, is a member of the tetracycline family of antibiotics and was tested in rats with autoimmune encephalomyelitis - a condition that mimics MS.

The results suggest the drug may significantly decrease the severity of MS attacks, or even block the onset of relapses.

We think that a similar therapy could be used in MS patients with early relapsing-remitting disease

Professor Ian Duncan
Researcher Professor Ian Duncan, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, said: "Animals treated with minocycline did not develop neurologic dysfunction or had a less severe course than untreated rats."

Professor Duncan said subsequent examination of the animals' nervous systems revealed that those who had been given the drug were less damaged.

"We therefore think that a similar therapy could be used in MS patients with early relapsing-remitting disease."

Course of disease

The majority of MS patients have a relapsing-remitting course of disease which becomes more serious with time.

While the trigger for relapses is often unclear, infectious disease such as a cold or flu are frequently associated with their onset.

There is no known cause or cure and treatments to date have proved to be only partially effective.

The disease is especially common in far northern and southern latitudes - the further from the equator, the greater the prevalence of the disease.

The disease is characterized by inflammation and loss of the myelin sheaths that insulate nerve fibres of the central nervous system.

Eventually there is scarring and nerve fibre loss. The location of the inflammation in the central nervous system - the brain and spinal cord - varies from patient to patient and from episode to episode.

How it works

Professor Duncan said that the rat experiments indicated that minocycline primarily works by stopping the central nervous system from becoming inflamed, and by blocking the action of cells thought to play a crucial role in the destruction of myelin.

He believes that it might also eventually prove to be useful in treating other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The antibiotic will be tested on humans next year.

If it proves to be effective, it would offer a number of advantages over currently available drugs.

It is cheaper, can be taken as a pill, and patients would only need it at times when the disease was active.

Christine Jones, MS Trust chief executive, said: "We welcome any new study into potential treatments for people with MS.

"There are approximately 85,000 people in the UK with MS and about two thirds have the relapsing/remitting, type which this antibiotic might potentially treat.

"Obviously this research is at a very early stage but we look forward to the final results with great interest."

The research is published in the journal Annals of Neurology.

See also:

25 Nov 01 | Health
Gene link to MS severity
17 Oct 01 | Health
MS reversed in lab
30 Nov 98 | Medical notes
Multiple sclerosis
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