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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Scientists reverse MS in mice
Lab mice
The technique was successfully tested on lab mice
Scientists have made a breakthrough in the search for an effective treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS).

However, the work has so far only been carried out on mice in the laboratory and translating it into an effective treatment for MS and other degenerative disorders of the nervous system will take years.

We think there is something about the immune system that is critical in protecting the nervous system

Dr Moses Rodriguez, Mayo Clinic, Rochester

The researchers have discovered antibodies produced by the immune system that can help to repair damage to the fatty sheath that surrounds nerves.

It is this myelin sheath that is damaged by multiple sclerosis - resulting in a reduced ability to send messages along the nerves.

Critical role

Dr Moses Rodriguez, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, led the study.

He said: "The immune system plays a critical role in the repair of the nervous system.

"The idea was if we could boost that immune response, we could then help patients."

Dr Rodriguez's team have discovered a type of antibody that attaches to nerve cells called oligodendrocytes which manufacture myelin.

They infected mice with a virus that causes symptoms identical to MS, and then treated them with the antibodies.

The damage to the myelin sheath caused by the virus was largely reversed when the mice received the antibodies.

However, the researchers have yet to discover whether this leads to an improvement in the symptoms of MS, such as weakness, clumsiness and stiffness.

Dr Rodriguez suspects that MS in humans may be caused by a virus similar to that injected into the mice.

He warned that it would be years before such a treatment could be tried in people.

"That is an important issue for patients to understand, not to give them false hopes.

"But at the same time you have to have some hope."

The researchers are now trying to create a version that could be tested on humans.

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