40 years on, breast cancer drug shows potential to repair myelin

A drug that is a well-established treatment for breast cancer now looks set to be a new remyelination therapy for MS.

Tamoxifen has been used to treat breast cancer since the early 1970s, but University of Cambridge, UK, researchers have found some previously unknown benefits of the treatment.

Dr Mark Kotter, who led the project, said: “We’re very excited about our findings. We looked at six existing drugs for a range of conditions as part of our work. What we discovered was that Tamoxifen can enhance myelin repair in MS by encouraging the brain’s own stem cells to regenerate myelin.”

tamoxifenThe study found that Tamoxifen works by targeting oestrogen receptors on stem cells in the brain. This encourages them to become oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for producing myelin.

Treating mice with Tamoxifen increased the number of myelin-making cells present in the brain and boosted the amount of repair that took place in response to myelin damage.

Finding new purposes, new uses, for existing medicines is likely to speed up the research process because the drugs are known to be safe.

Head of Biomedical Research at the UK’s MS Society Dr Sorrell Bickley said: “Myelin repair is a huge area of interest in MS and we’re proud to have co-funded this promising research. As Tamoxifen is already a treatment for breast cancer, we know that it’s safe, and it could therefore be developed more quickly.

“More than 100,000 people are living with MS in the UK and we want them to have a range of treatment options to choose from. We’d now like to see further research into this important area, with more clinical trials set up to test the potential benefits of myelin repair treatments for people with MS.”

 

The work was published in Nature Scientific Reports and led by Dr Mark Kotter at the University of Cambridge.

 

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