Multiple Sclerosis Drug Slows Brain Shrinkage, Study Shows

Aug 29, 2018

A clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) finds the drug ibudilast slows the rate of brain shrinkage in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). The study, which included researchers at the University of Cincinnati, involved more than 250 people with progressive MS.

"These findings provide a glimmer of hope for people with a form of multiple sclerosis that causes long-term disability but does not have many treatment options," says Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a division of the NIH.

The director of the UC Waddell Center for Multiple Sclerosis, Aram Zabeti, M.D., led the team of researchers in Cincinnati. They enrolled 16 patients in the clinical trial, making UC one of the top-enrolling sites.

Zabeti says the study shows promise of new treatment options for progressive MS, a condition where patients can experience nerve damage and brain shrinkage, known as neurodegeneration.

The findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study, conducted at 28 sites across the country, was led by Robert J. Fox, M.D., a neurologist at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic. Researchers studied patients' MRI brain scans every six weeks. Patients were randomly selected to take a placebo or ibudilast for 96 weeks. The findings show those taking ibudilast experienced less brain atrophy than those taking a placebo.

The study doesn't answer whether "the difference had an effect on symptoms or loss of function," the NIH says in a release.

"The trial's results are very encouraging and point towards a potential new therapy to help people with progressive MS," Fox says. "It also increased our understanding of advanced imaging techniques, so that future studies may require a smaller number of patients followed over a shorter amount of time. This leads to increased efficiency of clinical research. These imaging methods may also be relevant to a host of other neurological disorders."

What Is MS?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that is unpredictable and disabling. It affects the body's central nervous system, disrupting the flow of information between brain cells and between the brain and the rest of the body. This results in muscle weakness and trouble with balance, movement, sensation and vision.

The is currently no cure for MS.