Scientists take important steps towards treating MS and Alzheimer's

Subject: Finding ways to cure Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis

Image Credit:  Steven HWG via Unsplash  - HDR tune by  Universal-Sci

Image Credit: Steven HWG via Unsplash - HDR tune by Universal-Sci

Scientists from the Dutch Maastricht University and the Belgian Hasselt University succeeded for the first time in restoring the production of the substance myelin, which is broken down by the disease MS. They did this by suppressing the workings of specific proteins that are responsible for the reduced production of myelin. In Maastricht, scientists are investigating whether suppressing the same enzymes can also improve the cognition of Alzheimer's patients. To achieve this, the researchers are looking, among other things, at a drug that has been on the market for a long time, but that is currently being prescribed for people with severe COPD. 

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the protective and insulating layer around the nerves in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves - the central nervous system - is damaged — causing problems with walking, feeling, and seeing, among other things. The cause of MS is unknown, but scientists do have a few pieces of the puzzle. 

For instance, the substance myelin plays a vital role in MS. Myelin forms an insulation layer around the nerves in the central nervous system. This layer ensures that nerves transmit stimuli quickly and efficiently. In MS, the immune system gives an abnormally strong response to myelin. This causes the myelin to be broken down after which the nerves cannot pass on stimuli properly. 

Dr. Tim Vanmierlo, a researcher from Hasselt University, stated that they succeeded for the first time in stimulating the recovery of myelin in experimental animal models for MS. He clarified that they do this by suppressing the action of specific proteins that determine the reduced production of myelin. These research results can be an essential step in the search for a treatment for progressive MS."

Alzheimer's disease

Prior research by Prof. Jos Prickaerts at Maastricht University (UM) has already shown that the same proteins that are responsible for reduced myelin production in MS are also involved in cognitive problems experienced by Alzheimer's patients. 

Prickaerts' research, consequently, focuses on suppressing the conscious enzymes to improve the cognition of patients with Alzheimer's disease. 

In November, a four-year study will start at the University Maastricht with a promising drug that inhibits these proteins in patients that are even in the early stages of Alzheimer's. This drug is already on the market as a roflumilast for COPD. Therefore this drug can be tested immediately for possible effects in patients with Alzheimer's. The expectation is that roflumilast will work, but that the medicines that have recently been developed in Hasselt and Maastricht will improve cognition even better. 


The development of the beforementioned drugs for Alzheimer's disease is done in co-operation with the new Maastricht research institute BReIN. Thanks to the advancements in big data analytics, scientists are now able to analyze large amounts of data quickly. This will help with discovering patterns that say something about the prevention and prediction of diseases. 

The BReIN institute is brought to life with a mission to create adequate infrastructures for the collection, storage, and processing of Big Data in healthcare. A thorough study of Alzheimer's disease serves as a "prototype." Environmental factors such as harmful chemicals, food, and lack of exercise play a very determining, but mostly unknown, role in the development of Alzheimer's. That is why researchers will first analyze samples from patients from the Alzheimer Center Limburg. 

The increased focus on the use of big data might be the push forward that healthcare science needs. It is good to see substantial investments in this field. We will see what the future brings.

Sources and further reading: Myelin / Multiple sclerosis / Alzheimer's disease / University of Maastricht press release

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