What is it about pregnancy that eases the symptoms of MS? While Canadian researchers think the answer might be the hormone prolactin, researchers from UCLA think the answer might be another sex hormone - estriol. To investigate it's effects further, they are just about to start a two-year trial involving 150 women.
The new investigation follows on from a pilot study in which 10 non-pregnant women with MS were given estriol, yielding what researcher Rhonda Voskuhl described as "pretty remarkable" results - an 80 percent drop in inflammatory lesions in the brain, a hallmark of the disease.
Estriol is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy. It is thought that its role is to suppress a woman's immune system when she is pregnant, so that the fetus will not be seen by the body as a foreign "invader". "The beauty of estriol is that it can be given as a pill and also that it's not a new drug; it has decades of safety behind it," said Voskuhl. Estriol has been in widespread use outside the US as a hormone replacement therapy for women with menopausal symptoms. The fact that the pill already exists, says Voskuhl, should dramatically reduce the cost of treatment.
Viskuhl believes that the drug potentially provides a one-two punch against MS, both reducing the ability of immune cells to attack the brain, as well as making the brain more resistant to damage if any immune cells do make it through. "It's a two-pronged approach an anti-inflammatory prong to reduce the attacks, but also a neuroprotective prong to make the brain suffer less damage in case of an attack," she noted.
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Source: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences