Interferon Treatment Delays MS

By Nancy Steinbach

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Researchers in the United States and Canada have shown for the first time that a drug can delay or reduce the signs of the disease multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is also called M-S. Its cause is unknown. The disease results when the body's defense system attacks the nervous system. It destroys the protective tissue around nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This temporarily blocks signals that pass through the nerves to the muscles and brain. The disease later damages the nerves, too. M-S especially affects the ability to see, the sense of touch and the use of the arms and legs. The disease usually gets worse as time passes.

The latest study involved a drug called Avonex, or interferon beta one-A. It is already used to treat M-S. Researchers at fifty hospitals in the United States and Canada treated three-hundred-eighty-three people. All the people had very early signs of M-S. All had suffered one attack of the disease. They experienced double vision or problems with balance and strength. They also suffered some problems with controlling expulsion of wastes. Tests showed evidence of nerve damage in their brains.

Patients are usually not considered to have M-S until they suffer two attacks at different times that affect different parts of the brain. But people who suffer one attack are considered highly likely to develop the disease.

About half the patients in the study took the Avonex drug. The other half took an inactive substance. Seventy-six people in the group taking the inactive substance developed M-S. Only forty-six people taking Avonex developed the disease. The patients taking Avonex also showed fewer signs of nerve damage in the brain than those in the other group.

Researchers designed the study to follow these patients for four years. But officials stopped the study a year early because the Avonex group was doing so much better than the other group. Then they offered the drug to all the patients.

Stephen Reingold is with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He praised the study. But he said it did not continue long enough to show that Avonex prevents multiple sclerosis. He said the study does show that the drug delays the disease.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Nancy Steinbach.

Voice of America Special English