Medical advancements could halt MS, says Belfast expert after drug breakthrough
A Belfast specialist in multiple sclerosis has welcomed news that a drug used to treat diabetes has been shown to restore brain cells - something that could revolutionise treatment for MS sufferers.
Around 5,000 people in Northern Ireland live with the debilitating condition.
However, their lives could be transformed after a recent breakthrough discovery that scientists believe could halt the progression of MS.
MS Society-funded research indicates alternate day fasting and the fasting mimetic drug metformin, already used worldwide to treat diabetes, could be the answer to stopping MS through its ability to restore cells to a younger, healthier state.
Studying rats, researchers at the MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair at the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute found the drug was able to return cells to a "more youthful state".
They also found it could encourage the re-growth of myelin, the fatty sheath that surrounds our nerves, which is damaged in MS. Myelin regenerative treatments are considered essential to stop disease progression in MS.
Dr Gavin McDonnell, a consultant neurologist with the Belfast Trust and lead MS specialist in Northern Ireland, said stopping MS was something that could now be envisaged.
He said: "We are beginning to see potential advances in treatment for progressive MS for the first time and we are involved in a multi-centre UK trial in secondary progressive MS here in Belfast.
"Thanks to work in the UK and across the globe, we also now know a lot more about myelin repair and neuroprotection.
"Stopping MS is imaginable. Even slowing it, delaying the accumulation of disability, the potential need for walking aids and wheelchairs is monumental for individuals and for the MS community as a whole."
The MS Society is launching a major appeal to raise £100m over a 10-year period to accelerate new research.
Catherine Doran, chair of the Northern Ireland Council of the MS Society, was diagnosed with the condition 10 years ago.
"This discovery is one of the most exciting in recent years and we do believe it is in the right direction, but there needs to be lots more research done to make it happen," she said.
"To think that there could be a drug that could stop the damage from getting any worse is so huge because up until now it has been a matter of giving people drugs that will slow down MS."