Athlete's foot drug may be MS therapy
Two common drugs - one used for treating athlete's foot and another for alleviating eczema - may be useful therapies for multiple sclerosis, scientists believe.
In early animal studies, the medicines repaired some of the cell damage and paralysis seen in MS.
The drugs encouraged new growth of myelin to coat and protect the nerves.
Experts say although the results in Nature journal are promising, people should not be tempted to self-medicate.
Much more work is needed to check that the treatments will work in people.
Lab tests on human cells already hint that they might.
The two drugs in question - an antifungal called miconazole and a steroid called clobetasol - are currently topical medicines that are applied as creams to the skin.
They already have a good safety history for treating these conditions, says lead researcher Dr Paul Tesar, from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in the US.
He says the formulation of the drugs would need to be changed so that they could be better targeted to the nervous system where MS strikes.
In MS, the body's immune system mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it.
This leads to progressive disability.
Current medications for MS can help slow or prevent this attack, but they cannot replace myelin.
A number of researchers are looking at existing drugs to see if they can be reclaimed for treating MS.
Dr Tesar's team screened a library of more than 700 existing drugs to find any that would promote new myelin production by the individual's own cells.
Dr Tesar said they were working tirelessly to get a safe and effective drug for clinical use.
"We appreciate that some patients or their families feel they cannot wait for the development of specific approved medications.
"But off-label use of the current forms of these drugs is more likely to increase other health concerns than alleviate multiple sclerosis symptoms."
Prof Daniel Altmann, an expert in immunology at Imperial College London, said: "There has been tremendous progress in recent years in development, clinical trials and licensing of new drugs that aim to block the immune attack and thus ameliorate progress of disease.
"The problem that has been much harder to crack is what to do about the fact that this still leaves patients with irreversible disability through the damage to the myelin sheaths in the central nervous system that has been sustained."
He said the fruits of this approach to treating MS were still "a little way off".
Dr Sorrel Bickley of the MS Society said: "More than 100,000 people in the UK live with MS, which is why there is a huge unmet need for new therapies that can repair the damage to myelin that occurs in the condition.
"While this is an early study, it's exciting to think that there is now a growing list of potential myelin repair therapies that have been identified in laboratory and animal model studies. The next step will be to test these treatments in clinical trials to establish whether they can bring real benefits in slowing or stopping the progression of MS."