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Could MS Drug Be an Effective Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- A drug found to slow some of the physical problems and reduce the number of flare-ups of multiple sclerosis (MS) could also show promise for treating spinal cord injuries (SCIs), according to a new Japanese study.

Researchers from the Jichi Medical University School of Medicine and the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Medicine found that FTY720, also known as Gilenya, helped mice with spinal cord injuries recover some motor function when they were given the drug immediately after the injuries.

FTY720 acts in a number of ways, the study authors wrote.  The drug, provided by its manufacturer, Novartis, for this study, suppresses the immune system, which reduces inflammation that occurs after injuries.  Inflammatory effects, they explained, can worsen the damage done by SCIs.  The drug also helped the mice's damaged tissue regenerate, among other effects.

"The main biological activity responsible for these actions is believed to be immunological, but our data suggest that nonimmunological role(s) of FTY720 are also important in the treatment of SCI," they wrote.

The drug still needs to be evaluated in larger animals before determining whether it is effective in treating SCIs, but still has promise, the authors added.

Experts not involved with the study, however, are a bit more skeptical.  Many interventions work in mice, so determining the utility of Gilenya for SCIs in humans is a long way off, if it happens at all.

"Another issue is that in this study, the drug was given immediately after the SCI, and rarely do we have the opportunity to give a drug immediately after this type of injury in humans," said W. Dalton Dietrich, professor and scientific director of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.  "One big question is if the drug delivery is delayed, will it work?"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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