Breakthrough Could Mean Faster Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis

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MS GraphicA new discovery published yesterday in Annals of Neurology by scientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine may allow for drastically faster diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS). The team developed a brand new imaging tool to examine myelin damage in MS, offering the first non-invasive visualization of myelin integrity of the entire spinal cord at the same time.

MS is notorious as an extremely difficult disease to diagnose. It often takes months at best to diagnose the condition currently, but the breakthrough indicates physicians will be able to diagnose patients earlier, monitor its progression, and improve therapy. According to Medical Xpress, the scientists created a novel molecular probe, MeDAS, detectable by positron emission tomography (PET ) imaging.

The MeDAS molecular probe is described as working like a homing device. It is injected intravenously, and programmed to seek out and bind only to myelin in the central nervous system. A positron-emitting radioisotope label on the molecule allows a PET scanner to detect the probe and quantify the location and intensity.

“While MS originates in the immune system, the damage occurs to the myelin structure of the central nervous system. Our discovery brings new hope to clinicians who may be able to make an accurate diagnosis and prognosis in as little as a few hours compared to months or even years,” said Yanming Wang, PhD, senior author of study and associate professor of radiology at Case Western Reserve. “Because of its shape and size, it is particularly difficult to directly detect myelin damage in the spinal cord; this is the first time we have been able to image its function at the molecular level.”

MS is the most common acquired autoimmune disease and currently affects over two million people around the world. It is characterized by the destruction of myelin, the membrane that protects nerves. If this membrane becomes damaged, it inhibits the nerves’ ability to transmit electrical impulses, causing cognitive impairment and mobility dysfunction. There is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis.

“This discovery has open the door to develop new drugs that can truly restore nerve function, not just modify the symptoms,” said Robert Miller, PhD, co-author on the study, vice president for research for Case Western Reserve and the Allen C. Holmes Professor of Neurological Diseases at the School of Medicine. “A cure for MS requires both repairing myelin and a tool to measure the mechanism.”

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