European researchers found people in the early stages of MS who were given weekly interferon beta therapy were less likely to progress to full-blown disease after two years of treatment.
The study also showed that interferon beta therapy reduced the loss of brain tissue thought to be associated with multiple sclerosis compared with those given a placebo treatment.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves and causes problems with muscle control, strength, vision, balance, and other functions. The cause of the disease is unknown, but the condition causes nerve fibers to become damaged and unable function properly.
Researchers say the results show early treatment with interferon beta injections in people with isolated symptoms indicative of multiple sclerosis may reduce the loss of nerve tissue in the brain and other areas and decrease the risk of progression to full-blown multiple sclerosis.
Interferon Beta Therapy Slows MS
In the study, researchers followed nearly 260 people with early symptoms indicative of multiple sclerosis and evidence of nerve damage, as shown by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan. Almost half were given weekly injections of interferon beta and half were given a placebo injection for two years.
At the end of the study, researchers found nearly a third (31 percent) of the patients given interferon beta had converted to full-blown multiple sclerosis compared with just under half (47 percent) who progressed to full disease among those given the placebo.
In addition, a second MRI scan performed at the end of the study showed that those who received interferon beta therapy experienced less loss of brain tissue (1.18 percent versus 1.68 percent) than those who had the placebo.
The results appear in the Oct. 23 issue of The Lancet.
In a commentary that accompanies the study, David Miller of the Institute of Neurology in London, says that it may be premature to conclude that any effect of interferon beta on loss of brain tissue itself will produce long-term benefits in reducing disability.
But Miller says the results of this study are encouraging and loss of brain tissue should be considered as a measure in future studies of potential therapies for multiple sclerosis.
SOURCES: Filippi, M. The Lancet, Oct. 23, 2004; vol 364: pp 1489-1496. News release, The Lancet.