New hope in M.S. treatment

April 12, 2010 7:42:14 AM PDT
Doctors may be on the cusp of developing a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. It isn't a complex new drug, but rather something that already exists within the human body.

37-year-old Melissa Sherak-Glasser has had multiple sclerosis since she was a teenager.

"My body has experienced a lot of different things from numbness to not being able to feel temperature, to not being able to use my legs, to seeing double," Sherak-Glasser said.

Remarkably, during each of her four pregnancies, her symptoms diminished.

"I knew there was something about being pregnant that made me feel really, really great," she said.

But what was it that made her feel better?

Researchers at UCLA think it was estriol, a hormone produced by the placenta.

They believe that just like it protects a fetus from attacks by a mother's immune system, it protects a MS patient's nervous system from attack.

"We gave a dose of estriol to induce a pregnancy level in the patient's blood and by doing that we had recreated some of the particular effects of pregnancy," said Dr. Rhonda Voskuhl, UCLA.

In a pilot study, non-pregnant women with MS who took an estriol pill had 80 percent fewer brain lesions - the telltale sign of the disease.

The problem is that it's not available in the United States yet -only Europe. Doctors are conducting a larger study to change that.

"Our goal is to acquire data, based on efficacy in MS and safety. To go to the FDA, and say- what else do you need? What can we do to try and get FDA approval to bring estriol to the United States?" said Dr. Voskuhl.

Most MS drugs are injected and can cost up to $20,000 a year.

Estriol is a pill, and much cheaper, with an estimated cost of $70 per year.

Trials on the hormone are still recruiting patients, and the University of Pennsylvania is one of the study sites.

For more on the trials, and contact information for the Penn researchers, go to