Scientists claim to have discovered that the progress of debilitating disease multiple sclerosis could be slowed or even stopped by blocking a protein which contributes to nerve damage.

An international team has shown the key role played by the collapsin response mediator protein 2 (CRMP-2) in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), the Brain journal reported.

In their research, the scientists found that a modified version of CRMP-2 is present in active MS lesions, which indicate damage to the nervous system, in a laboratory model of MS.

The modified CRMP-2 interacts with another protein to cause nerve fibre damage that can result in numbness, blindness, difficulties with speech and motor skills, and cognitive impairments in sufferers.

When either the modified CRMP-2 or the interaction between the two proteins was blocked, using a method already approved in both the US and Australia, the progression of the disease was halted.

The scientists say that the discovery could lead to new treatments for MS. “Blocking the same protein in people with MS could provide a ‘handbrake’ to the progression of the disease,” Prof Richard Boyd of Monash University, a team member, said.

Dr Steven Petratos, the team leader, said the method used to block the protein was approved for the treatment of other disease conditions by both the US Food and Drug Administration and Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“This should mean that clinical trials — once they start — will be fast tracked as the form of administration has already been approved,” he added.