A trial of the antibiotic minocycline against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- Lou Gehrig's disease -- has been halted because patients taking the drug had a significantly accelerated decline in neurological function. The research finding of the U.S. Western ALS Study Group calls into question plans to try minocycline against other neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
"There were early indications in animal trials that it [minocycline] might be beneficial," said Robert P. Bowser, PhD, McGowan Institute faculty member, associate professor of pathology and a professor of neurobiology in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Director of the ALS Research for the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and the Center for ALS Research at the University of Pittsburgh.
But in a randomized trial that included 412 people with ALS, nerve function in those treated with minocycline deteriorated at a 25 percent faster rate than in those taking a placebo, the researchers reported.
“The reason for the accelerated damage isn't known,” Dr. Bowser said. “Part of the story is trying to figure out the pathway by which the drug is having the effect.”
ALS is a disease that attacks motor nerves and causes degeneration throughout the brain and spinal cord. The only known cause of ALS is a mutation of a gene designated SOD1, which is to blame for a limited number of cases. The Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig is the best-known victim of ALS, but it has also cut short the lives of other athletes, such as pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter, as well as former New York Sen. Jacob Javits and the actor David Niven. About 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time, according to the ALS Association.
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