UCI researchers announce publication of an open-label clinical trial suggesting that N-acetylglucosamine restores neurological function in Multiple Sclerosis patients.

Irvine, CA – Sept. 11, 2023 – UCI researchers have found that a simple sugar, N-acetylglucosamine, reduces multiple inflammation and neurodegeneration markers in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS). In addition, they also found this dietary supplement improved neurological function in 30% of patients.

According to the World Health Organization, MS affects more than 1.8 million people, and while there are treatments to prevent relapses and improve quality of life, there is no cure.

The study, N-acetylglucosamine inhibits inflammation and neurodegeneration markers in multiple sclerosis: a mechanistic trial, was published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation. Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD, Chief of the Division of Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology at UCI, is the lead investigator of the study. Michael Y. Sy, MD, PhD, Director of the Neuroimmunology Fellowship at UCI School of Medicine, is the first author, and Barbara Newton, MD, Project Scientist at UCI, is the second author.

A major issue with current therapies in MS is the inability to treat chronic-active neuroinflammation in the brain and the associated failure to repair the loss of myelin that covers and protects axons, the electrical wires of the brain. Over time, this leads to permanent nerve cell damage and slow progressive loss of neurological function in patients.

“Our previous studies in mice and humans implicated N-acetylglucosamine in suppressing brain inflammation, promoting the re-growth of the myelin sheath and slowing brain degeneration,” said Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at the UCI School of Medicine.

The new paper reports on the first clinical trial of N-acetylglucosamine in MS patients to directly investigate these potential activities. The trial was developed and performed exclusively in the Demetriou Lab at the UCI School of Medicine and UCI’s Institute of Clinical and Translational Science.

Researchers found that N-acetylglucosamine was safe and reduced multiple inflammation and neurodegeneration markers in MS patients despite the patients already being on the FDA approved immunomodulatory therapy Glatiramer Acetate, known to impact these pathways outside the brain.  

“We also observed a sustained reduction in neurological disability in 30% of the patients, an activity which has not been observed with current FDA approved therapies,” said Michael Y. Sy, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurology, UCI School of Medicine. “They at best slow progression, not improve function.”

The data suggest that N-acetylglucosamine reduced untreated chronic-active neuroinflammation and/or promoted myelin repair.  However, the researchers stress that the trial was unblinded and therefore future blinded studies and additional parameters are essential to validate N-acetylglucosamine’s potential to improve residual chronic-active brain inflammation, myelin repair, neurodegeneration and neurological function in MS.

“Future studies demonstrating that N-acetylglucosamine can restore neurological function in MS patients would be a gamechanger and provide something that no other current therapy can do,” said Dr. Demetriou, MD, PhD.


UCI School of Medicine:

Each year, the UCI School of Medicine educates more than 400 medical students and nearly 150 PhD and MS students. More than 700 residents and fellows are trained at the UCI Medical Center and affiliated institutions. Multiple MD, PhD and MS degrees are offered. Students are encouraged to pursue an expansive range of interests and options. For medical students, there are numerous concurrent dual degree programs, including an MD/MBA, MD/MPH, or an MD/MS degree through one of three mission-based programs: the Health Education to Advance Leaders in Integrative Medicine (HEAL-IM), the Program in Medical Education for Leadership Education to Advance Diversity-African, Black and Caribbean (PRIME LEAD-ABC), and the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC). The UCI School of Medicine is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Accreditation and ranks among the top 50 nationwide for research. For more information, visit medschool.uci.edu.


Conflict of Interest Disclosures:

MS and MD are named as inventors on a patent application that describes GlcNAc as a biomarker for progressive multiple sclerosis. MD is named as an inventor on a patent for use of GlcNAc in multiple sclerosis.

DOI: 10.1186/s12974-023-02893-9

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