Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that attacks the body’s nervous system by having a person’s own immune system break down the protective sheath -- called myelin -- that surrounds nerve fibers. The result is nerve damage that can create numbness, weakness, and paralysis, among many other tragic symptoms.
Now, researchers say that a compound found in the peels of certain fruits like apples, prunes, and some herbs can help prevent further damage to nerves and actually repair the myelin that has been broken down.
“Although the evidence is preliminary...it’s encouraging to see a compound that both halts and repairs damage in MS, in the lab,” said co-senior author of the study Dr. Guang-Xian Zhang, a professor at Thomas Jefferson University.
Reversing nerve damage
The compound the researchers identified is called ursolic acid, and the researchers say that it is “a great new lead for disease treatment.”
The team came to that conclusion after testing a concentrated version of the compound on mice who had already suffered chronic damage from MS. The mice were treated over the course of 60 days; at day 20, the researchers found that mice who were paralyzed at the start of the study were already able to walk around again.
While muscle weakness was still a concern in these test subjects, the researchers say the results are very promising. There is more work to be done to fine-tune this type of treatment, but the researchers note that their work will not necessarily lead to a cure.
"It's not a cure, but if we see a similar response in people, it would represent a significant change in quality of life. And most significantly, it's a reversal, which we really haven't seen before with other agents at such a late stage of disease," said Zhang.
The full study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.