Use of a trial multiple sclerosis hormone therapy along with current treatments may help patients who frequently relapse.

Preliminary findings from a new hormone treatment trial could lead to relief for patients with “breakthrough” multiple sclerosis, or MS.

Researchers from the American Academy of Neurology say the findings could mean that adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) will be regularly used as a supplemental treatment for chronic MS.

MS is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. In the case of MS, the attack is focused on brain tissue, which causes “plaques” to accumulate on brain tissue, nerves, and the spinal cord.

There is no cure for MS, so treatments and medications focus on managing its symptoms, which include fatigue, cognitive changes, and other physical problems.

ACTH is a hormone released by the anterior pituitary gland, a small gland located near the brain stem. Its primary function is to regulate cortisol, a steroid hormone associated with stress and adrenal gland function.

According to the National MS Society (NMSS), ACTH is currently approved to treat acute MS attacks and for those who have adverse reactions to the long-term use of corticosteroids, a common anti-inflammatory treatment for MS. Common side effects of ATCH include vomiting, appetite changes, diarrhea, constipation, sleep problems, and sweating, the NMSS states.

In the latest round of research on ACTH, scientists recruited 23 MS patients using beta-interferon treatment. Previous research from Stanford University found that beta-interferon is ineffective for many patients and does not prevent relapses.

For this study, the 23 patients were given ACTH or methylprednisolone, an adrenal steroid, in pulse therapy once a month along with their current treatments. The patients knew which drug they were receiving, but researchers did not.

After 15 months, those receiving the supplemental ACTH had fewer relapses and no psychiatric side effects. One in two patients on methylprednisolone experienced at least one psychiatric problem, and those patients had ten times as many MS symptom relapses.

“These results are of interest because few treatments are available for people with breakthrough MS,” study author Dr. Regina Berkovich of Keck Medical Center of USC in Los Angeles said in a press release. “Further studies, including randomized controlled trials, are needed to validate these preliminary findings, but the results suggest a potential benefit of ACTH pulse therapy in breakthrough MS.”

The trial results will be presented during the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in San Diego March 16th through 23rd.

Currently, ACTH is one of several hormone therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat MS.

The National MS Society states that sex hormones—such as testosterone and estrogen—may work to suppress a person’s immune system, thus relieving some symptoms of conditions like MS.

According to their Task Force on Gender, MS and Autoimmunity, MS hormone research must also include an examination of how these hormones affect men and women differently.

For example, one study published in JAMA Neurology found that treating relapsing men with synthetic testosterone yielded positive results with few if any side effects.

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