LONDON, England -- Researchers in Britain say they have found that a drug used to treat leukemia can halt and even reverse the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis (MS).
The findings published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine will bring fresh hope to the world's millions of sufferers of the the auto-immune disease.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge in eastern England found that a drug called alemtuzumab can stop the advance of MS in its early stages.
MS causes the body's immune system to attack nerve fibres in the central nervous system. Watch as drug offers hope to MS sufferers »
Symptoms of the disease can include loss of sight and mobility, depression, fatigue and cognitive problems. There is no cure, and few effective treatments. Read an explainer about MS
In trials among sufferers, alemtuzumab cut the number of attacks and helped them recover lost functions. It even apparently helped repair damaged brain tissue so individuals were less disabled than at the start of the study.
Researchers also compared the effectiveness of alemtuzumab with interferon beta-1a, a leading MS treatment.
They found patients treated with alemtuzumab were 74 percent less likely to experience relapses than those taking interferon beta-1a.
"The ability of an MS drug to promote brain repair is unprecedented," said Dr. Alasdair Coles, a lecturer at Cambridge university's department of clinical neurosciences, who worked on the study.
"We are witnessing a drug which, if given early enough, might effectively stop the advancement of the disease and also restore lost function by promoting repair of the damaged brain tissue."
The MS Society, Britain's largest support charity for those affected by the condition, said the results of the trial will bring hope to many thousands of people living with the condition.
Lee Dunster, head of research at the charity, said: "The MS Society has been following this trial closely and we are delighted that it has reported such positive results.
"This is the first drug that has shown the potential to halt and even reverse the debilitating effects of MS and this news will rightly bring hope to people living with the condition day in, day out."
Despite the optimism researchers said further research must be carried out before the drug could be approved for the treatment of MS.