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4.10.2013

Miller School Researchers to Study Medical Food for Cognitive Impairment in Patients with MS

Two Miller School researchers are beginning a study to examine the effects of the medical food Axona on cognitive impairment in patients with multiple sclerosis.

Primary investigators Melissa R. Ortega, M.D., instructor in the Department of Neurology, and Heather L. Katzen, Ph.D., assistant research professor of neurology, will examine the prescription medical food, which is intended for the clinical dietary management of the metabolic processes associated with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They will be collaborating with Accera, Inc., a privately held, commercial-stage healthcare company, to conduct the research.

More than 2.1 million people are affected by MS worldwide, and cognitive problems commonly occur in individuals with MS. Symptoms vary in severity and may have a negative impact on relationships, work and quality of life. Yet, there are few treatment options available, creating a pressing need for new interventions.

To address the disabling symptom, Ortega and Katzen will test Axona as a unique strategy for improving cognitive function in individuals with MS.

Made from special fats, Axona produces ketones, which can provide an alternative energy source for brain cells. While typically the human brain relies on glucose as an energy source, research shows that people with Alzheimer’s fail to metabolize glucose properly. The decrease in glucose use correlates with cognitive impairment associated with the disease. In clinical trials, Axona was associated with cognitive improvement in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.

Previous research suggests there also may be flaws in how glucose is metabolized in the brains of people with MS. The notion that these metabolic abnormalities may contribute to cognitive dysfunction in MS is what led Ortega, who specializes in MS, to consider whether Axona may provide a therapeutic strategy to treat MS-related cognitive problems.

The researchers will enroll 158 MS patients who have experienced cognitive problems in the double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study at the Miller School’s MS Center of Excellence over the next three years to investigate whether the food can help restore cognitive function.

The project will be funded by Fast Forward, LLC, a nonprofit organization established by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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