Multiple Sclerosis has been difficult to detect before onset. Thanks to new research, there could be hope on the horizon for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers. Scientists believe they have recently identified an antibody linked with MS and it might be detectable in blood samples of individuals with MS several years before the onset of symptoms and disease occur. If this preliminary research yields results among larger participant pools, doctors assert that they cannot only prepare to treat, but hopefully, prevent MS symptoms from occurring.
The antibody marker that scientists have identified is called KIR4.1 protein, which has demonstrated antibody development that precedes the onset of disease in some MS sufferers. Moreover, the development of antibodies prior to onset of disease suggests the protein’s potential role in the development of MS. Meaning that the KIR4.1 protein could be proven as an early indicator of Multiple Sclerosis, similar to how the BRCA mutation has become recognized as an early indicator of genetic disposition to certain forms of cancer development. Once these markers are identified and conclusively linked to the disease, scientists cannot only develop better treatment and preventive regimens, but they also could be able to detect Multiple Sclerosis years before onset.
The preliminary research study was performed in Munich, Germany at Technical University. The sample groups used for the study included 16 blood donors who were later diagnosed with MS compared to 16 blood donors of the same gender and age who did not develop the disease. Blood samples were collected between two and nine months prior to the onset of symptoms among the group that developed MS, as well as from the healthy control group, and the scientists looked for evidence of the KIR4.1 protein. All 16 members from the healthy control group who did not develop MS tested negative for the KIR4.1 protein. While the affected group of 16 who were later diagnosed with MS showed mixed results. Seven tested positive for the antibody marker, two had borderline activity results, and seven tested negative for the KIR4.1 protein marker. The researchers’ next step was to look at antibody levels in the blood at various time points up to six years before and then after the onset of MS diagnosis among those subjects who tested positive for the KIR4.1 protein marker. They discovered the presence of KIR4.1 protein in varying concentration levels at different time points among these individuals affected by MS.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS), which is composed of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. It is also believed to have an autoimmune component in which the body’s own immune system attacks other systems of the body. In the case of MS, this is specific to how the immune system attacks the central nervous system of MS sufferers. The myelin sheaths that encompass and safeguard the nerve fibers of the central nervous system are ravaged by MS. The damaged myelin develops scars or patches on the nerve fibers that impede the transmission of nerve signals. In general, MS sufferers tend to live normal life expectancies; however, more severe cases could potentially shorten a MS sufferer’s lifespan. Moreover, the pathology and severity of attacks among MS sufferers can very greatly on an individual basis.
For instance, one MS sufferer might experience unusual periods of fatigue and transient muscle spasms or loss of balance and coordination. While another could suffer from tremors, slurred speech, vision and bladder problems, and episodes of numbness and tingling in their limbs. MS can be episodic and remain dormant for long periods of time, especially in the early stages of the disease. With more severe cases of Multiple Sclerosis, the sufferers’ symptoms become permanent and often involve partial or complete paralysis, cognitive and vision issues, speech impairments, as well as difficulties with waste elimination. The disease can be difficult to diagnose given its unpredictable and varying nature and it can affect people of different age groups and backgrounds. Many MS sufferers will be diagnosed between age 20 and 50. However, some individuals affected by MS could be diagnosed as toddlers, and even into old age is not uncommon.
The next step is for the research team to expand their study into larger sample groups and replicate their findings, as well as determining how many years before onset of MS the antibody response in blood could develop within affected individuals. This important research study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual symposium in April 2014. The scientists are greatly encouraged by their preliminary findings and could be on the verge of a major medical breakthrough in detecting Multiple Sclerosis years before onset, as well as improving the likelihood of diagnosis, treatment, and a possible cure.
By Leigh Haugh
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