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.