UCLA scientists have found the first evidence that a specific form of estrogen can protect the brain from degeneration associated with multiple sclerosis without increasing the risk of estrogen-induced cancers of the breast and uterus. The study took place in mice infected with the animal equivalent of MS.
While people with MS have many choices of anti-inflammatory drugs to help prevent flare-ups of their physical symptoms, no medication exists to stop the disorder from causing degeneration of the brain and spinal cord. The UCLA findings offer the potential for a "designer estrogen" that doctors could prescribe in higher doses without increasing a patient's cancer risk, as well as a potent MS cocktail blending the hormone with a standard anti-inflammatory treatment.
This form of estrogen also offers a new weapon for combating brain degeneration caused by Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's diseases, spinal cord injuries, and even normal aging. Finally, men may be able to use it without fear of developing the feminine side effects often produced by standard estrogen treatments.
Dr. Rhonda Voskuhl, UCLA's Jack H. Skirball Professor of Multiple Sclerosis Research and professor of neurology, and Seema Tiwari-Woodruff, assistant professor of neurology — both with the Multiple Sclerosis Program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA — are available for interviews.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and National Multiple Sclerosis Society supported the research.
The study appears in the Aug. 27–31 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Color images comparing the effect of "designer estrogen" on healthy spinal cord tissue with its effect on MS-infected tissue are available upon request.