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Blood Test May Predict MS and Raises Questions

Blood test may predict MS

The ability to predict the onset of disease before symptoms appear is a goal sought after by many researchers, including those who conduct studies of multiple sclerosis (MS). Now a German team has announced that a blood test may predict MS, although the findings are preliminary and not yet published.

The research team made their discovery when they evaluated 32 blood samples: 16 from individuals who were later diagnosed with MS and 16 from 16 other people who never developed the disease. All the samples were gathered two to nine months before anyone showed any symptoms of MS.

Read more about diagnosing MS

An antibody to the KIR4.1 protein was the focus of the study, and the team found it in nine of the participants who eventually developed MS: seven tested positive for the antibody and two demonstrated mild activity. None of the 16 volunteers who did not have MS had the antibody.

Therefore, presence of the antibody to the KIR4.1 protein provides advance warning of the development of MS, at least in some people. According to one of the study’s investigators, Dr. Viola Biberacher, “Finding the disease before symptoms appear means we can better prepare to treat and possibly even prevent those symptoms.”

The findings will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) in Philadelphia April 26 to May 3, 2014. In a release from the AAN on February 21, 2014, Biberacher noted that this discovery suggests “a role of the autoantibody in how the disease develops.”

In other words, the fact that the bodies of the nine individuals with MS made autoantibodies (antibodies made by the immune system to target one or more of the person’s own proteins) could provide important clues to the origins of MS. The findings of this study raise several questions.

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What do these findings mean to people who already have MS? Could the information help develop better ways to treat the disease? Who would be screened using this blood test if it proves to be accurate after further testing?

If some people are found to be at high risk of developing MS after receiving the test, what can be done to prevent its occurrence? If the disease cannot be prevented, what steps could be taken to reduce the impact of the disease? Will those steps include taking medications with a risk of lots of side effects?

These questions and more come to mind when reading about this new study. If you have MS or know someone who does, you may have some questions of your own concerning the impact of using such a blood test for predicting MS.

As an aside, a research team at Tel Aviv University recently reported on some lab tests that could be used for early detection of MS. The tests were administered to 52 individuals with early stage MS and 28 healthy controls.

The tests can be done in an office setting and include measurement of muscle fatigue and lower limb muscle strength and endurance and observation of an individual’s gait. Individuals with MS tended to walk with their legs slightly wider apart, to walk more slowly, and to use shorter steps.

A blood test to help predict MS could be a giant step in the right direction in fighting this life-altering disease. At the same time, it raises a lot of questions about what we can best do with the information to benefit those at risk for MS.

American Academy of Neurology release

Image: Morguefile