According to reports in 2020, 2.8 million people globally suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS). While the condition has no cure, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco are working on a blood test to spot worsening multiple sclerosis at least a year before it happens.
This article examines their work and its effectiveness in managing this condition.
Why Do MS Symptoms Get Worse?
Dr. Ari J. Green, the medical director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroinflammation Center at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), said the biological reason for permanent, irreversible neurological dysfunction is the loss of connections in the nervous system.
However, he also said this shows up too late for anything to be done. Dr.Green said there need to be ways to detect neurological worsening in advance to have any hope of stopping or reversing the process.
How Does The Blood Test Work?
The researchers used the neurofilament light chain (NfL) as the blood marker for the blood test. Dr. Ahmed Abdelhak, a physician-scientist and co-first author of the study, said the neurofilament light chain is one of several special proteins found in nerve fibers. He also said some of these proteins, called peptides, enter their blood when the nerve fibers get damaged or lost.
Dr. Abdelhak said NfL can be used as an essential marker to measure evidence of injury to nerve fibers. This can potentially be used to identify when symptoms get worse.
What Were The Study’s Findings?
For the study, Drs. Green and Abdelhak and their team examined data from 1,900 people suffering from multiple sclerosis. Of that number, about 570 were classified with disabilities that continued worsening, with the majority independent of relapses.
Researchers discovered that elevated NfL levels were linked with up to a 91% higher risk of worsening disability with relapse a year later. Elevated NfL levels were also associated with a 49% increased risk of worsening disability without relapse nearly two years later.
What Does This Mean for MS Treatment?
Dr. Lana Zhovtis Ryerson, research director at the Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute at Jersey Shore University Medical Center – Multiple Sclerosis (MS) center, said it’s exciting to see a biomarker that can predict disability one or two years before it happens.
Dr. Bruce F. Bebo. Jr., executive vice president of research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said being able to predict the course of a disease in an individual with MS would help in selecting the most appropriate disease-modifying therapy.
Multiple sclerosis currently has no cure, but identifying worsening symptoms can help boost treatment. MfL levels can help predict the disability earlier and help doctors find disease-modifying therapy.