New research suggests that a medication indicated to treat seizures could also reduce the risk of nerve damage and blindness in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). These findings were presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

In this study, 86 patients with acute optic neuritis were randomly selected to receive either phenytoin or a placebo for three months, within two weeks of having symptoms. Medical imaging was utilized to measure the thickness of the retina at baseline and again at six months. Eyesight tests that included sharpness and color perception were also conducted.

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On average, the phenytoin arm experienced 30% less damage to the retina vs. the placebo arm. Macula volume was 34% greater in patients taking phenytoin compared to those receiving placebo. There were no significant long-term differences in visual outcomes between the two treatment groups and patients’ vision was successfully recovered (consistent following a single attack).

Larger clinical trials are needed to confirm these results, but additional research may lead to a treatment for preventing nerve damage and blindness in MS that served a major unmet need.

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