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Good News About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system.  It has intrigued doctors for many reasons, one of which has been the lack of an easy, definitive diagnostic test.  Good news on this front has come, however, in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (7/10/03).  People with multiple sclerosis (MS) may soon benefit from earlier diagnosis using relatively cheap and easy blood tests based upon the detection of specific antibodies in the blood. As with most chronic diseases, earlier diagnosis leads to earlier treatment and generally better prognosis and quality of life. 

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 examined with 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 evident MS.

While this test is not yet commercially available in the United States, researchers anticipate that it may be available within the next year.  The ability to use antibodies as markers for MS has significant clinical implications.  This test will also be helpful in differentiating patients who may have clinical symptoms consistent with MS, but who don't actually have this disease.  This test will not only permit earlier diagnoses, but may also prevent misdiagnoses. 

The progression of MS is variable and patients are often left with little information about their prognosis. The results of this research may also reduce some of the uncertainty for MS patients about treatment options.  For example, studies have shown that patients at high risk for developing MS can be treated early with interferon-beta-1a which has been approved for patients with clinically isolated symptoms. In addition, two other disease-modifying agents (known as immunomodulators) may be helpful for early MS treatment:  interferon beta 1-b and glatiramer acetate.

Created: 9/19/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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