Treatment with the diabetes drug Actos, known technically as pioglitazone, seems to reduce brain shrinkage and may have other beneficial effects in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers report.

If confirmed, this drug or one in the same class might be useful as add-on treatment for people with MS, Dr. Douglas L. Feinstein told Reuters Health.

Feinstein, at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and colleagues came to this conclusion after studying 21 patients with so-called "relapsing-remitting" MS who were randomly assigned to take 30 milligrams of pioglitazone daily or an inactive "placebo".

As reported in the Journal of Neuroimmunology, after a year, there were no significant differences between the two groups in clinical symptoms. However, MRI scans showed a significant reduction in gray matter loss and a trend toward fewer brain lesions in the active treatment group.

Feinstein noted that the class of drugs that includes pioglitazone "is currently being tested by several different labs around the world, in other neurological diseases including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's diseases, ALS, and stroke."

He concluded, "Our findings of possible neuroprotective effects might be applicable to those other conditions."