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Vol. LXVII, No. 10
May 8, 2015

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Drugs That Activate Brain Stem Cells May Reverse Multiple Sclerosis

An artist’s representation of a study in which scientistsfound that certain drugs were able to promote remyelination in mouse models of multiple sclerosis

An artist’s representation of a study in which scientistsfound that certain drugs were able to promote remyelination in mouse models of multiple sclerosis

Image courtesy Case Western; illustrator: Megan Kern

Two drugs already on the market—an antifungal and a steroid—may potentially take on new roles as treatments for multiple sclerosis. According to a study published in Nature Apr. 20, researchers discovered that these drugs may activate stem cells in the brain to stimulate myelin-producing cells and repair white matter, which is damaged in multiple sclerosis. The study was partially funded by NINDS.

Specialized cells called oligodendrocytes lay down multiple layers of a fatty white substance known as myelin around axons, the long “wires” that connect brain cells. Myelin acts as an insulator and enables fast communication between brain cells. In multiple sclerosis there is breakdown of myelin and this deterioration leads to muscle weakness, numbness and problems with vision, coordination and balance.

“To replace damaged cells, the scientific field has focused on direct transplantation of stem cell-derived tissues for regenerative medicine, and that approach is likely to provide enormous benefit down the road,” said Dr. Paul Tesar of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, senior author of the study. “We asked if we could find a faster and less invasive approach by using drugs to activate native nervous system stem cells and direct them to form new myelin. Our ultimate goal was to enhance the body’s ability to repair itself.”

“The ability to activate white matter cells in the brain, as shown in this study, opens up an exciting new avenue of therapy development for myelin disorders such as multiple sclerosis,” said Dr. Ursula Utz, program director at NINDS.

NIH Study Finds Genetic Link for Rare Intestinal Cancer

Heredity accounts for up to 35 percent of small intestinal carcinoid, a rare digestive cancer, according to findings from a team at NIH. The researchers examined families with a history of the disease. Because the disease has long been considered randomly occurring rather than inherited, people with a family history are not typically screened. Results were published recently in Gastroenterology.

“Small intestinal carcinoid tumors usually grow slowly without symptoms. It is often too late to reverse the condition once people seek medical attention,” said lead author Dr. Stephen Wank, senior investigator at NIDDK, which supported the trial. “Our findings suggest that people with a family history of the disease should be screened for it. We hope this research empowers thousands of at-risk people with a way to prevent these tumors from becoming a devastating disease.”

Conducted at the Clinical Center, the study screened 181 people from 33 families, each with at least two cases of small intestinal carcinoid. The researchers discovered the disease in 23 people who had not yet developed symptoms and successfully removed all tumors in 21 of those people.

Global Pandemic of Fake Medicines Poses Urgent Risk, Scientists Say

Poor quality medicines are a real and urgent threat that could undermine decades of successful efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, according to the editors of a collection of journal articles published Apr. 20.

Scientists report that up to 41 percent of specimens failed to meet quality standards in global studies of about 17,000 drug samples. Among the collection is an article describing the discovery of falsified and substandard malaria drugs that caused an estimated 122,350 deaths in African children in 2013. Other studies identified poor quality antibiotics, which may harm health and increase antimicrobial resistance. However, new methodologies are being developed to detect problem drugs at the point of purchase and show some promise, scientists say.

Seventeen articles in all, detailing various aspects of the issue and proposing possible solutions, were included in a special journal supplement “The Global Pandemic of Falsified Medicines: Laboratory and Field Innovations and Policy Perspectives,” published online ahead of print by the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Several articles suggest policy interventions, including an international framework and the adoption of stricter national laws against drug counterfeiting.

“This problem continues to spread globally, creating an even greater challenge to cooperation among stakeholders, many with limited resources,” noted the supplement’s co-editor Dr. Joel Breman, senior scientist emeritus at the Fogarty International Center. “The need is urgent for collaboration among those with expertise in policy, science, technology, surveillance, epidemiology and logistics, in order to secure global supply chains.”

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