FRIDAY, Dec. 16, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The immunosuppressive drug Imuran (azathioprine) appears to help reduce brain lesions in people with multiple sclerosis, a new Italian study finds.
It was already known that Imuran reduces relapse rates in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, but its effects on the frequency and accumulation of new brain inflammatory lesions in people with MS hadn't been studied.
MS is a disease of the central nervous system. It can cause numbness, weakness, loss of muscle coordination and problems with speech, vision and bladder control.
Reporting in the December issue of Archives of Neurology, researchers at the University of Florence had 14 patients with relapse-remitting MS of short duration receive Imuran for six months.
In relapse-remitting MS, relapses occur where new symptoms can appear and old symptoms re-appear or become worse. These relapses are followed by periods of remission, when patients may partially or fully recover from disabilities acquired during the relapse.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to evaluate the patients' brain lesions.
"The results of this study show, for the first time, that the immunosuppressive agent azathioprine suppresses new brain lesions evaluated using MRI in patients with RRMS," the study authors wrote. "Indeed, the treatment induces remarkable new brain lesion reduction, stable for 12 months. This activity was obtained at doses that can be well-tolerated and that are associated with low circulating lymphocyte numbers."
As the patients' brain lesion rates decreased, so did their relapse rates, the study found.
"If considered in the context of previous clinical trials, the present study indicates that azathioprine may represent an alternative to immunomodulatory medications specifically approved for relapse-remitting MS," the authors concluded.
The American Medical Association has more about multiple sclerosis.