Red Wine Molecule Might Battle MS

Sept. 20 -- FRIDAY, Sept. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Resveratrol, the compound in red wine that previous research has linked to longevity, has shown promise in an animal model of multiple sclerosis.

Mice with the MS-like condition called Wallerian degeneration slow (WldS) showed an initial weight gain when given resveratrol, researchers at the University of Utah reported Thursday at the World Congress on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, in Montreal.

The weight gain occurred in the first two weeks of treatment. A microscopic study of nerve cell tissue at five weeks did not show any positive effect.

"They didn't look at the tissue under the microscope in the first two weeks," said Dr. John Richert, executive vice president for the research and clinical program of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Obviously, lots of things can make animals gain weight."

But weight gain of any kind is an encouraging sign in MS treatment, Richert said. "In inflammatory animal models of MS, one of the tell-tale clinical signs of the disease is weight loss. Weight loss often goes hand in hand with loss of neurological function."

The study "poses some questions," Richert said. "Obviously, a lot more needs to be done to see if the weight gain shows a beneficial effect on the disease process. This is evidence that it should be studied further."

Another report at the meeting was on positive results of a human trial of a new drug, laquinimod, which is given in pill form. Developed in the United States, it acts to prevent the body's immune system from attacking nerve cells.

An international study led by Italian physicians had two different doses of laquinimod given to 376 people with MS. "The higher dose was quite effective in reducing the lesions which characterize multiple sclerosis," said study author Dr. Giancarlo Comi, a professor of neurology at the University Vita-Salute and Scientific Institute San Raffaele, in Milan.

The higher dose reduced brain lesions by about 50 percent, Comi said. The people who got it also had a 30 percent reduction in MS flare-ups, which can cause vision loss and lack of coordination severe enough to prevent someone from walking, he said.

There will be a larger study that will recruit more than 1,000 people with MS and will last for two years, Comi said. If all goes well, it could be available for clinical use in three years.

A great advantage of the drug is that it can be taken by mouth, Comi said. "All the available therapies are injectable," he said. "Can you imagine how large an advantage this therapy would be?"

Another noninjectable drug that probably is already being overused against MS has shown promise in an animal study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University reported at the same meeting. It is naltrexone, developed for treatment of drug abuse.

"Thousands of people are taking this drug for MS on the basis of what other people have said," said Dr. Ian S. Zagon, distinguished university professor in neural and behavioral sciences at Penn State. "So, we decided to do animal studies about its efficacy."

The study of animals with an MS-like condition found that low-dose naltrexone helped, but high doses worsened the disease, Zagon said. Penn State is organizing a human trial of low-dose naltrexone in MS, he said. Meanwhile, use of the drug for the condition is not recommended, Zagon said.

More information

Learn about MS from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

SOURCES: John Richert, M.D., executive vice president, research and clinical program, Multiple Sclerosis Society; Giancarlo Comi, M.D., professor, neurology, University Vita-Salute and Scientific Institute San Raffaele, Milan, Italy; Ian S. Zagon, distinguished university professor, neural and behavioral sciences, Pennsylvania State University, Hershey; Sept. 18, 2008, presentations, World Congress on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, Montreal