A small study analyzing the blood of healthy people who developed MS, along with the blood of those who did not, has uncovered “blood signatures” that may lead to a diagnosis of MS before symptoms appear, and consequently earlier and more effective intervention.
"We are not yet able to treat people with MS to prevent the onset of the disease but knowledge is power," says Anat Achiron, a professor of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and vice-dean of research at Sheba Medical Center. "Every time we meet a new patient exhibiting symptoms of MS, we must ask ourselves how long this has been going on. We can diagnose MS by brain MRI, but we've never been able to know how 'fresh' the disease is."
If doctors can predict the onset of MS early enough, intervention therapies using immunomodulatory drugs or beta-interferon drugs that stave off MS symptoms might be used.
Examining blood samples of twenty19-year-old Israelis who were inducted into the army as healthy soldiers, and the nine of them who later developed MS, Achiron and her team at Sheba were able to use a "high throughput analysis" using more than 12,000 gene transcripts expressions. The screening compared similarities and differences in the blood of those who developed MS and those who did not, eventually establishing biological markers.
"Those who will develop MS will show a different blood signature from those who will not," says Achiron. "When we compared the gene expression signatures, we saw a similar pattern of the same working biological processes."
These early genetic markers may now be used to test for MS up to nine years before healthy young adults start developing symptoms. And because MS is thought to have a genetic component and a tendency to be found in siblings, Achiron says the biomarkers can be used as a tool for brothers and sisters of people with MS. The goal is to learn more about the genetics of MS through this new discovery, with the hope that early intervention therapies may be more effective, and help advance medicine toward a cure, according to Achiron.
Typically by the time a person notices symptoms, significant and irreversible nerve damage is already done.