A new drug could offer a glimmer of hope to thousands of patients with multiple sclerosis after it almost halved the rate of cerebral contraction in one trial.
People suffering from a severe and progressive form of nervous disease could be helped with a pill called ibudilast.
It is believed that medication works by reducing inflammation and cell death in the brain, minimizing the loss of vital tissue.
Ibudilast is aimed at people with less common primary or secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), for whom the condition is constant and difficult to control.
The researchers are not sure how the medication works, but they said that after almost two years people had "more brains". remaining that those who did not take the medication.
It is believed that more than 100,000 people in Britain have MS and 400,000 Americans, and between 10 and 15 percent of them have the progressive form of the incurable disease.
Ibudilast reduced the amount of brain shrinkage by an average of 48 percent among people who took the drug for almost two years, suggesting that it could delay the degeneration caused by MS
A study by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio involved 255 people in a nearly two-year trial of ibudilab.
Just over half of the participants (129) took up to 10 pills a day for 96 weeks, while the other 126 received a placebo.
The patients had MRI scans every six months to track how the disease was affecting them.
The results showed that brain shrinkage, which damages nerves and causes disability, was 48 percent slower among people who took the medication.
& # 39; These patients have more brain than they would have & # 39;
"Nobody has a brain reduction," study leader Robert Fox told New Scientist. "We hope there are some just because of normal aging."
WHAT IS MULTIPLE PROGRESSIVE SCLEROSIS?
Multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that causes damage to the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, can be progressive, relapsing or benign.
The progressive MS is divided into primary progressive and secondary.
Primary progressive MS affects about 10-15 percent of people with the disease, up to 15,000 Britons or 60,000 Americans.
It is a constant disorder, which gradually worsens, rather than sudden attacks such as those caused by the relapse of multiple sclerosis.
This type of MS is diagnosed more frequently in people between 40 and 50 years old, and there are no medications from the National Health Service that slow it down.
Secondary progressive MS usually develops after the recurrent disease, when people stop suffering periodic attacks and begin to show symptoms all the time.
Modern medications for relapse of MS mean that fewer people are likely to develop a secondary progressive, and if they do, it could take more than 20 years.
Source: MS Society
"But these patients have more brains now than they would have had without being in ibudilast."
The brains of people who take the drug are reduced by an average of 2.5 ml less for 24 months than those who do not: the average volume of an adult brain is 1,350 ml.
It is believed that Ibudilast works by slowing down the process that causes nerve damage.
MS causes the protective covering around the nerves, which sends signals between the body and the brain, to degenerate and break down, ultimately causing the nerve to malfunction.
Progressive MS is less common than the recurrent form
Symptoms include tiredness, difficulty walking, vision problems, numbness or tingling, muscle stiffness and spasms, and difficulty balancing and thinking.
Progressive MS, to which the drug is directed, is constant and less common than relapsing MS, from which people can lead a normal life and relapse of symptoms.
The disease is not curable and affects people for decades. It is mostly diagnosed in women between 20 and 30 years old.
Dr. Fox added: "The trial results are very encouraging and point to a possible new therapy to help people with progressive MS.
"It also increased our understanding of advanced imaging techniques so that future studies may require fewer patients followed for a shorter period of time."
The team's findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.