Living with multiple sclerosis can be cruel: watching your body decline for decades, knowing your nerves are under attack, increasingly losing your ability to function.
Commonly abbreviated M-S, the disease occurs when the immune system attacks the fatty coverings that protect your nerves. These coverings, called myelin sheaths, help to protect your nervous system and keep it working normally. When a myelin sheath is damaged due to M-S, nerves are exposed and communication within the system can break down. Your ability to move, talk and see can be hampered, and you may experience abnormal sensations — such as tingling and numbness — in areas of your body.
There are various stages of the disease. For the one called secondary-progressive M-S, no effective treatments are known. But scientists are testing a possible weapon: a widely used cholesterol medication.
The drug, known as simvastatin [SIM va sta tin], is said to have a protective effect on nerves. Recognizing its potential to help M-S patients, researchers have been testing it in with mixed results.
A new study, however, shows great promise for people with secondary-progressive M-S. People with this form of the disease who took simvastatin for two years showed significantly less loss of brain mass than expected. Brain scans taken at the trial’s start and a month after the course of medication was completed showed the participants’ brain mass over time. Compared with people who took a placebo, simvastatin users had 43 percent less atrophy in the brain on an annual basis during the study.
Some people also performed better on tests evaluating disability, or said they noticed improvements in their own symptoms.
Still, simvastatin requires more testing as a potential M-S therapy. Hopefully, more new options for M.S. treatment are on the horizon, too.