Scientists have been trying to find a way to restore a protective covering around nerve cells whose loss leads to the neuron damage associated with multiple sclerosis.
A team at the University of California, San Francisco may have found a way to do it. And perhaps surprisingly, the possible solution is an over-the-counter allergy drug.
A Phase 2 clinical trial showed that the antihistamine clemastine fumarate helped people with a chronically damaged optic nerve. The therapy led to faster firing of patients’ vision neurons, according to a report in the journal The Lancet. It also slightly improved how well the patients could distinguish contrast.
While the effect was modest, researchers said the study proved that rejuvenation of the protective of the protective neuron coating — the protein myelin — can occur in those with even chronic nerve-cell damage. The findings are a starting point for the development of more effective treatments, they said.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time a therapy has been able to reverse deficits caused by MS,” Dr. Ari Green, principal investigator of the trial, said in a press release. “It’s not a cure, but it’s a first step towards restoring brain function to the millions who are affected by this chronic, debilitating disease.”
The research team focused on vision damage In the Phase 2 ReBUILD trial (NCT02040298) for a simple reason: Vision is commonly affected in MS, and there are reliable ways to measure the speed of neurons in the brain that are linked to vision.