MS Explained - Future researchNeuroprotection
Neuroprotection is a relatively new area of research in MS. The permanent symptoms of the progressive types of MS seem to develop when nerve cells are destroyed. This is thought to occur when nerve fibres are exposed to chemicals produced by the inflammation of tissue that MS causes. The theory of neuroprotection is that, if the nerve cells can be protected from these chemicals, destruction - and thus further permanent problems - can be lessened or prevented.
Different aspects of neuroprotection are being examined, concentrating on different elements that lead to loss of nerve cells. Inflammation leads to the increase in levels of nitric oxide, calcium and sodium. Contact with high levels of these chemicals can damage nerve cells. Research is underway to examine the effect of blocking these chemicals.
Another approach is looking at a type of drug called glutamate receptor blockers. Glutamate is one of the chemicals involved in transmitting messages from nerve cell to nerve cell. Excessive glutamate can also damage nerves.
Drugs that have been investigated as neuroprotectors include riluzole, eliprodil (both work by reducing levels of glutamate) and lamotrigine (which limits the level of sodium). A study of the neuroprotective effects of cannabis is also underway.
Research in this area is at a relatively early stage and these studies are exploring the potential of neuroprotection as a strategy rather than the possibility of bringing a particular drug to market in the short-term.
Neuroprotective drugs will not be able to reverse progression or restore function that has already been lost. However, if suitable drugs can be developed, it is hoped that this will mean that the progression of MS can be significantly slowed down.
- More information from the MS Trust
- Neuroprotection - A to Z of MS
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