A small double-blind clinical trial involving patients with relapsing-remitting MS has indicated that a drug used to treat diabetes shows protective effects in the brain.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine, trial participants were given pioglitazone—a FDA-approved type 2 diabetes drug commercially known as Actos—or a placebo. They continued their normal course of therapy during the trial.
After one year, participants taking pioglitazone, which is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, had shown significantly less loss of gray matter than patients taking the placebo. A report about the study was published in the online edition of the Journal of Neuroimmunology.
Baseline values for lesions typically seen in people with MS were established with standard neurological tests and MRI scans at the start of the trial. The participants were evaluated every two months, and blood samples were taken. Repeat MRI scans were done after five months and again after one year.
Of the 21 participants who finished the study, those taking pioglitazone had no adverse reactions. They reported that taking pioglitazone, which is administered in an oral tablet, was easy.
"This is very encouraging," said Douglas Feinstein, research professor of anesthesiology at UIC. "Gray matter in the brain is the part that is rich in neurons. These preliminary results suggest that the drug has important effects on neuronal survival."
Feinstein says a larger trial is needed to confirm these preliminary results, but in the meantime, researchers are trying to learn more about pioglitazone’s protective effect on neurons.