Acne drug may help treat multiple sclerosis

Dr. Luanne Metz, an associate professor of neurosciences and physician-scientist in the Neuroscience Research Group at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine, has found that minocycline, a drug currently used to treat such conditions as acne, decreases the activity of lesions in the brains of people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The results of her study are published in the May edition of the Annals of Neurology.

The randomized study looks at ten people with active relapsing-remitting MS - characterized by clearly defined attacks (relapses) followed by partial or complete recovery (remissions). It assesses the effect of oral minocycline on people with active lesions in their brains. Each participant was given an MRI at the onset of the study, and then every four weeks after that, to determine whether or not the lesions caused by MS were getting worse or stabilizing.

"For reasons that are still unclear, people with MS suffer from immune system malfunctions which trigger attacks of the nerve cells and myelin in the central nervous system,” says Metz, Director of the Calgary Health Region’s world renowned MS Clinic. “Current treatments being used today do not eliminate MS completely – they only lessen the severity and slow progression of the disease. Our new findings are exciting because we discovered that minocycline significantly reduces the activity of the lesions in the brain. These findings offer us the possibility of a new and safe treatment option for people with MS.”

Donna Smith, a 46 year old Calgarian participating in the clinical trial, has struggled with her MS symptoms in the past. “Before I began taking oral minocycline, I was having relapses every couple of years, especially during or following stressful events, which sometimes caused my whole lower body to go completely numb,” says Smith. “Since taking part in the study, my relapses have completely stopped.”

In 2002, Wee Yong, PhD, Metz’s colleague in the Neuroscience Research Group at the University of Calgary, and a professor in oncology and clinical neurosciences, found that minocycline decreases tissue damage and significantly improves movement in mice with symptoms of MS as well as spinal cord injury. The results of his study are published in the April 2002 and July 2003 issues of the prestigious journal Brain. These studies provided the basis for the human trial.

Metz and Yong are currently collaborating on a new study that looks at the potential for minocycline to be even more effective when used in combination with Copaxone – another drug used to treat MS. This combination study, led by Dr. Metz, is concurrently being announced by Teva Neuroscience Canada. The ability to rapidly translate the laboratory data to clinical studies is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“Canadians have one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world,” says Richard Hawkes, PhD, associate dean of research, U of C’s Faculty of Medicine. “Research like Drs. Metz’s and Yong’s offers new options to manage this devastating disease – and it gives us hope that we’re getting closer to finding a cure.”

Metz’s and Yong’s research is funded by the Alberta Foundation for Medical Research, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Teva Neuroscience, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

For more information, please contact Dr. Metz at 944-4241 or [email protected].

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