Blood Test Offers New Hope for Multiple Sclerosis Patients
by Jennifer Wider, MD
(Washington DC; 7/24/03) People with multiple sclerosis (MS) may benefit from
earlier diagnosis using cheap and easy blood tests, according to a new study
in The New England Journal of Medicine (7/10/03). The detection of specific
antibodies in the blood may allow for earlier detection and prompt treatment
in patients suspected of having MS. Because new and evolving therapies have
the potential for slowing the progression of the disease, earlier treatments
may mean better outcomes for patients.
Researchers from the Department of Neurology at the University of Innsbruck
in Austria examined blood samples from 103 patients who experienced a neurological
event, suggesting MS. Patients were further examined using magnetic resonance
imaging (MRI) and cerebrospinal fluid samples. The researchers set out to determine
if the presence of antibodies in the blood to two specific proteins could predict
the onset of clinically definite multiple sclerosis.
The use of antibodies as markers has significant implications for patients
with multiple sclerosis. According to Dr. Thomas Berger, lead researcher and
professor at the Department of Neurology at the University of Innsbruck, Austria:
"This is the first test with a biological marker which can predict the
individual risk to a patient of having clinically definite MS." In other
words, the results of the blood test can determine whether or not initial symptoms
may indicate a diagnosis of MS. Patients who do not have the antibodies in their
bloodstream may not develop the disease. "Patients without initial antibody
seropositivity probably will never get clinically definite MS," explains
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system.
The cause of MS is unknown, but most researchers believe it is an autoimmune
disease. The symptoms of MS are often unpredictable and can vary between patients.
Some of the more common symptoms include: numbness or weakness in one or more
limbs, repetitive pain or tingling sensations in various parts of the body,
impaired vision which is often accompanied by pain with eye movement, fatigue,
dizziness and lack of coordination or tremor. When the disease progresses, patients
may experience muscle spasms, slurred speech, problems with bladder or bowel
control and paralysis. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society,
most people are between the ages of 20-50 when diagnosed with the disease. Like
other autoimmune diseases, MS affects women 2-3 times more than men.
The progression of MS is variable and patients are often left with little information
about their prognosis. The results of Dr. Berger's research may shed light on
the ambiguity for MS patients, "The test may have consequences and advantages
for the patients in terms of counseling and early treatment." Studies have
shown that patients at high risk for developing MS can be treated effectively,
"Immediate early treatment with interferon-beta-1a ... has been approved
for patients with clinically isolated symptoms." In addition, two other
disease-modifying agents, interferon beta 1-b and glatiramer acetate, also known
as immunomodulators, are recognized as effective therapeutic options following
a diagnosis of MS and may be approved for patients who are at risk of developing
clinically definite MS. Early treatment may slow the progression of the disease.
The results of the study suggest that patients who experience symptoms suggestive
of MS can have their blood examined for antibodies, and if positive, can be
treated early and effectively. Currently, the test is not available in the United
States. "We are trying hard to make this test available within the next
6-12 months," comments Dr. Berger. "In addition, I believe that in
the near future, several labs in the US will try to establish our test."
Click here for more information on multiple sclerosis.
The Society for Women's
Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization
whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded
in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate
inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need
for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates
increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex
differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease,
and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica
Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its
Board of Directors.
Created: 7/24/2003  - Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Reviewed: 8/10/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.