March 15, 2005 - A new blood test may soon allow doctors to detect multiple sclerosis early with a single test rather than the battery of exams now required to definitively diagnose the disease.
Researchers say it's the first published report of a potential blood test for multiple sclerosis. Currently, the disease is diagnosed through a combination of accessing a person's symptoms, a physical exam, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other laboratory tests.
But if further studies confirm these results, researchers say the new blood test may offer a faster, easier, and less expensive way to spot multiple sclerosis (MS) in its earliest stages.
"In some patients, it is difficult to conclusively diagnose MS," says researcher Jagannadha Avasarala, MD, PhD, a neurologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. "Identifying markers for disease has become a rapidly evolving science, particular in cancer diagnostics. In the field of MS, however, there have been no similar studies."
The results appear in the current issue of the Journal of Molecular Neuroscience.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, leading to fatigue, weakness, numbness, and other problems. The disease affects more than 250,000 people in the U.S. and frequently strikes young adults.
New Blood Test for Multiple Sclerosis?
In the study, researchers compared blood samples from 25 people who had been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and 25 healthy people to see if there was a unique genetic "fingerprint" or pattern of proteins and other genetic material in people with MS.
All of the people with MS had the most common relapse-remitting form of the disease, characterized by intermittent painful attacks of the disease and periods of relapse. None of the participants had experienced a relapse within the prior six weeks or had taken immune-suppressing drug therapy.
"In this preliminary investigation, we found a distinct pattern in the MS group that revealed the existence of three markers for the disease," says Avasarala. "This suggests the potential for developing a blood test that could allow us to identify the earliest changes that represent MS and help in its diagnosis."
The analysis combined mass spectrometry, which analyzes proteins, and special computer software to recognize protein patterns.
"There is probably not a single marker to detect MS. This test was designed to look for a pattern of individual proteins that can [separate] people with MS from healthy people," says Avasarala.