Natural, soy-based substance might help fight MS, Jefferson neuroscientists find

December 12, 2006

(PHILADELPHIA) -- A natural substance made from soy appears to have amazing restorative powers when given to animals with a multiple sclerosis (MS)-like disease.

Using an animal model of MS, neurologists at Jefferson Medical College found that giving doses of a substance called Bowmann-Birk Inhibitor Concentrate (BBIC) dramatically improved the animals' ability to move and walk. The scientists, led by A. M. Rostami, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and the Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience in Philadelphia, say the treatment's effects may be useful in conjunction with more mainstream therapies such as beta-interferon in helping patients with MS. They report their findings December 12, 2006 in the journal Multiple Sclerosis.

MS, one of the most common neurological diseases affecting young adults, is thought to be an autoimmune disease (in which the body attacks its own tissue) affecting the central nervous system (CNS). In MS, the myelin coating of nerve fibers becomes inflamed and scarred. As a result, "messages" cannot be sent through the nervous system.

Dr. Rostami, who is also director of the Neuroimmunology Laboratory in the Department of Neurology at Jefferson Medical College, and his group used an animal model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), which mimics MS, to investigate BBIC's potential immune system-suppressing properties. BBIC inhibits proteases, enzymes that play important roles in the inflammation and demyelination processes that are at the heart of MS. It has been used for other conditions, notably precancerous conditions in the mouth.

He and his co-workers compared two groups of animals with EAE. One group received BBIC, while the other received only an inert substance. "Animals that received BBIC were able to walk while those that didn't get the drug were not," he says. He notes that the animals aren't cured but can walk with some limp or weakness. "The results are promising because this is a safe, natural compound from soybean and is given orally."

Further analysis revealed that the central nervous systems of animals that received BBIC showed "significantly less inflammation and demyelination" than those that didn't receive the therapy. "It's the first time that BBIC has been used in an EAE model and has shown significant disease suppression, and we hope it can eventually be used in humans," says Dr. Rostami. His group's next step is to design clinical trials in humans.

The scientists are not sure how BBIC works in multiple sclerosis, but they theorize that it suppresses the immune response to some extent, in addition to inhibiting proteases. Dr. Rostami sees BBIC as being used as a single therapy or in conjunction with other drugs in treating MS. He notes that because current therapies for MS involve injecting drugs such as interferon and copaxane, one goal is to develop an oral agent. BBIC could be given by pill daily.

Over 400,000 Americans acknowledge having MS, though nearly one million Americans may be living with the disease. Symptoms can include fatigue, loss of coordination, muscle weakness, numbness, inability to walk or use hands and arms, pain, vision problems, slurred speech and bladder/bowel dysfunction.
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Editors: This release is embargoed until Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 12:01 a.m. ET

Thomas Jefferson University

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