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Drug Widely Used to Treat MS May Not Slow Progression
Date:7/17/2012

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 17 (HealthDay News) -- Interferon beta, a widely used treatment for multiple sclerosis, does not stave off the time to disability, new research finds.

However, prior studies have found that interferon beta does reduce MS flare ups, so patients should continue taking it, researchers said.

The new study is published in the July 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In multiple sclerosis, the body's immune system attacks myelin, or the substance that insulates nerve fibers of the central nervous system. The damage disrupts nerve signals traveling to and from the brain, which can lead to numbness, movement difficulties, blurred vision, fatigue and eventually, problems with thinking and memory.

About 85 percent of those with multiple sclerosis start with a relapsing-remitting course, in which attacks are followed by partial or total recovery, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. More than half go on to develop a more progressive form of the disease, in which symptoms worsen over time and there are fewer, shorter periods without symptoms. Over time, the disease can lead to loss of vision and paralysis.

The study included data on nearly 2,700 multiple sclerosis patients from British Columbia, Canada, with relapsing-remitting MS who were followed for four to 11 years. About one-third of the patients were treated with interferon beta after it became available in the early 1990s and one-third were not treated with interferon beta. The researchers also examined data on a third group of MS patients who were diagnosed and followed before interferon beta was a treatment option.

The investigators found no statistically significant difference in how long it took for patients prescribed interferon beta to become disabled, defined as needing a cane to walk 330 feet.

"We were not able to find a significant as
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