The MS Society in the United Kingdom is funding a new project at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, to examine if heparin, a drug widely used for stroke patients, can repair neurological damage in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
MS is a progressive, debilitating, immune-mediated, neurodegenerative disorder in which the myelin sheath that covers and insulates neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) becomes damaged due to inflammation. The damage disrupts the nervous system’s ability to communicate, which results in a range of physical, mental, and sometimes psychiatric problems.
The new study, funded with 150,000 pounds (about $183,000 U.S.), from the MS Society U.K., will investigate if a modified low-sulphated form of heparin can reduce the myelin damage seen in MS. Heparin is an anticoagulant (blood thinner).
If the study outcome is encouraging, researchers will further investigate if the modified version of heparin could be moved into clinical trials for MS. The research will run until the end of 2018.
Prof. Sue Barnett from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation will lead the research project, in collaboration with Prof. Jerry Turnbull at the University of Liverpool.
Dr. Sorrel Bickley, head of Biomedical Research at the MS Society, called the project “exciting.”
“More than 100,000 people are living with MS in the UK and we’re working to ensure they have a range of effective treatment options available to them. Forms of heparin have been used as medicines for years, so if this type proves to be effective it could go through clinical trials more quickly than other drugs,” Bickley said in a news release.
Researchers had previously found that the heparin derivative is able to stimulate the growth of myelin.
“We’ve already shown that low-sulphated heparin can encourage the growth of protective myelin in a dish, and now want to test whether it can help repair myelin around living nerve cells in MS-like conditions,” Barnett said.
According to the MS Society, about 5,000 people in the U.K. are newly diagnosed with the condition each year. In perspective, the numbers indicate that one in every 600 citizens has MS.