Researchers at the University of Manitoba have discovered a protein that has the potential to be used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and as a marker for early diagnosis of the disease.
The study shows a link between the decrease of the protein, Neuregulin-1 beta 1, and MS, says research published this week in the peer-reviewed neurology journal Brain.
The protein declines early in pre-symptomatic MS animal models and continues to decrease as the disease progresses, said senior author Dr. Soheila Karimi of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.
Researchers found the same was true in some human patient samples.
"It is important in the sense that it can predict MS and then by early prediction, even before the symptoms are there… it would help to start the treatment earlier," Karimi said in an interview.
"Individuals with MS live with the debilitating consequences of the disease for decades, and if we can help find a treatment, it could improve the quality of life for a large population of people."
There are about 77,000 Canadians are living with MS (in which the immune system attacks the protective sheath covering nerve fibres, causing communication problems between brain and body), and 11 new cases are diagnosed every day, according to the MS Society of Canada.
The U of M study led by Dr. Hardeep Kataria found the protein can also be restored therapeutically through injection to slow down the progression of MS and reduce the severity of symptoms, even at the peak of the disease.
"We have treated animals at different stages of the disease… pre-symptomatically, at the onset, at the peak and even post-peak of the disease. In the majority of these applications, animals showed delay in the onset or the severity of the disease and progression was significantly reduced," said Karimi.
The protein is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Karimi, which would speed up the approval of a treatment, if further studies back up the recent findings.
"There is a clinical grade of this protein already approved by the FDA for other purposes," said Karimi. "This is promising because if our future studies show promise… there’s already something FDA approved, which means that the safety in terms of the human population is already determined."
Karimi added although these findings are an exciting development, more research needs to be done.
"We need to study this further, but our animal studies are very promising," she said.
Karimi’s team has received new funding from the MS Society of Canada to further study this potential treatment in repairing damaged nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord during the progressive phase of MS.