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Could a Non-Prescription Antifungal Become a Major Advance for Multiple Sclerosis?

April 20, 2015

In 2011, Paul Tesar, a professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, worked with collaborators tocome up with a method of producing massive numbers of mouse stem cells that are capable of turning into oligodendrocytes, the cells that produce myelin, the protective coating on nerve cells.

One thing you can do with such a technique, assuming you can do the same thing with human cells, is to use biochemical legerdemain to restore the myelin lost in multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other disorders. But cell replacement therapies are still a work in progress–and may continue to be so for a long time.

A nearer term project for these cell populations is to test known drugs to see whether they might succeed in turning stem cells milling around the nervous system into myelin-producing oligodendrocytes. Tesar and team screened 727 drugs that had been safely used in patients. Among them they found seven that could do the job of making the switch from stem cell to oligodendrocyte. The team decided to focus on the top two, both already approved by the FDA for use on the skin. There was an antifungal (miconazole) and a steroid (clobetasol).

Both drugs, when administered by injection, substantially increased the production of myelin-producing cells and myelin itself in mouse models of multiple sclerosis when compared to a rodent control group that received placebos. The two compounds also reduced the severity of the MS-like disease model in the animals–and the drugs even promoted the transformation of human stem cells in culture into oligodendrocytes.Results were reported April 20 in Nature.

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