Researchers at the Mayo Clinic may have found a way to reverse multiple sclerosis. These new findings could help pave the way for more effective multiple sclerosis treatments.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that targets the brain and spine. It is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective coating of nerve cells.The damage is caused by inflammation when the body's immune system cells attack the nervous system.

The research was conducted on mice, and led by Moses Rodriguez, MD, and L. James Maher III, PhD, both from the Mayo Clinic. In the mice models, the small molecules, named apatamers, stimulated the body to repair the myelin sheath by itself. The apatamers are "folded, single-stranded nucleic acids with activities that, like folded proteins, depend on their three-dimensional shapes and surface features."

Researchers say that the apatamers are effective and inexpensive to produce - the magical words for drug manufacturers. Apatamers are also stable, smaller than the molecules used in previous trials at one-tenth the size, and seem unlikely to provoke a response by the immune system.

Despite the fact that the illness has been studied for more than 150 years, it is currently not understood why the immune system attacks the nervous system. Researchers believe that genetics, a virus, or environmental factors may play a role.

The episodes that multiple sclerosis can cause can last for as short as a few days or as long as a few months. Intermittently, sufferers have few or no symptoms, which can include muscle spasms, trouble walking, and vision loss. The illness can also lead to permanent disability.

There is presently no treatment that can cure the illness, though sufferers may choose the treat the various symptoms, such as depression, or to seek treatment that can delay the progression of the disease, though medications are only modestly effective. Multiple sclerosis affects nearly 200 million people all over the world.

The results of the study were published in PLoS ONE.