Pharmaceutical bottles and test tubes in a lab

Breast cancer drug shows potential to repair myelin

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found a new way to repair myelin using a well-established treatment for breast cancer.

Tamoxifen has been used to treat breast cancer since the early 1970s, but research has revealed some previously unknown benefits of the treatment.

Dr Mark Kotter, who led the project, said:

“We’re very excited about our findings. We looked at six existing drugs for a range of conditions as part of our work. What we discovered was that Tamoxifen can enhance myelin repair in MS by encouraging the brain’s own stem cells to regenerate myelin.”

Boosting repair

The study found that Tamoxifen works by targeting oestrogen receptors on stem cells in the brain. This encourages them to become oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for producing myelin.

Treating rats with Tamoxifen increased the number of myelin-making cells present in the brain and boosted the amount of repair that took place in response to myelin damage.

Speeding up clinical trials

Repurposing medicines that already exist is thought to speed up the research process because we already know the drugs are safe.

Dr Sorrel Bickley, our Head of Biomedical Research, said: “Myelin repair is a huge area of interest in MS and we’re proud to have co-funded this promising research. As Tamoxifen is already a treatment for breast cancer, we know that it’s safe, and it could therefore be developed more quickly.

“More than 100,000 people are living with MS in the UK and we want them to have a range of treatment options to choose from. We’d now like to see further research into this important area, with more clinical trials set up to test the potential benefits of myelin repair treatments for people with MS.”

The work was published in Nature Scientific Reports and led by Dr Mark Kotter at the University of Cambridge.