A new drug could reverse the damage of multiple sclerosis, curing balance and vision problems for sufferers, researchers believe.
The disorder occurs when myelin, the fatty material which protects nerves is damaged, exposing the nerves and causing signalling problems between the brain and muscles.
One of the earliest indicators of multiple sclerosis is a condition called optic neuritis in which the retina stops sending electrical signals to the brain, causing vision loss.
But a new drug, called anti-LINGO-1, has been found to repair myelin, radically improving nerve signalling and completely restoring function in some cases.
Although the subjects tested have not been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, more than half of people with optic neuritis go on to acquire the disorder.
Scientists say that crucially the new results prove that anti-LINGO-1 can repair myelin, and so should help people with MS.
"This study, for the first time, provides biological evidence of repair of damaged myelin in the human brain, and advances the field of neuro-reparative therapies," said study lead author Dr Diego Cadavid, of Biogen, which is based Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Around 100,000 people in Britain suffer from MS and there is currently no cure.
All patients involved in the trial were given the new drug or a placebo once every four weeks for a total of six doses.
Because optic neuritis only usually affects one eye, doctors evaluated the recovery of the optic nerve by comparing it with the normal healthy eye.
The results showed that 53 per cent of people on the drug saw their nerve signalling restored to normal or nearly normal while on average most saw signalling between the retina and the brain improve by 41 per cent.
The scientists are now following up patients to find out of the signalling improvement will restored their vision.
"More studies are needed to evaluate whether these changes lead to clinical improvement," said Cadavid.
The drug works by targeting ‘Lingo-1’ a protein which stops nerve cells from developing further once the nervous system is fully formed.
By blocking that protein, the drug effectively tells the body to carry on growing the nerves, which repairs any damage.
Biogen chief medical officer Alfred Sandrock said “We believe the results are encouraging, as this is the first clinical trial to provide evidence of biological repair in the central nervous system by facilitating remyelination following an acute inflammatory injury”.
The research was presented at the American Academy of Neurology's Annual Meeting in Washington.
Read more at telegraph.co.uk