A team of Winthrop-University Hospital researchers, led by Eitan M. Akirav, PhD, a Research Scientist at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, NY, has found a biomarker for Multiple Sclerosis (MS), allowing the team to develop a new, minimally invasive test for the disease. MS is a neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system that affects more than 400,000 people in the United States. The research was funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Marilyn Hilton Award for Innovation in MS Research, and the results are published online in the journal EBioMedicine.
The biomarker’s applications would include a more accurate diagnosis of MS, a better assessment of disease prognosis, how well the patient is responding to therapy and the possibility of measuring cell loss in the blood to test how well new drugs and therapies work. “We have tremendous hope that this will improve the quality of care that is available to patients with MS and allow us to diagnose the disease much sooner, so that they are able to receive the right therapy as soon as possible, and not be in limbo, waiting for another occurrence,” said Dr. Akirav.
When Relapsing-remitting MS – the most common form of the disease which affects 80–85 percent of MS patients, and is characterized by symptoms that appear and then disappear before returning – is suspected, the patient must wait for a second episode to occur before a diagnosis can be made. Then the patient must undergo a spinal cord tap – a painful and somewhat risky procedure. This new research would allow for diagnosis by a simple blood test, allowing for earlier diagnosis and intervention. Moreover, it can be repeated and allows for a much simpler and quicker way to determine if particular medical therapies are working for a specific patient, and enables their physicians to tailor their treatments more closely to each individual patient.
“When cells die in one area of the body, the DNA is dumped into the blood,” explained Dr. Akirav. “There is a specific cell in the brain known to be affected by MS. By studying the DNA in someone’s blood, if we find DNA that came from the brain, it indicates the person is losing cells in the brain and can be a strong indicator of MS. We can see this by a blood sample, without an invasive procedure. Studying the blood is a direct route to studying the brain, providing more access to what can be a ‘black box’ for researchers and drug companies.”
The research was conducted by comparing the blood from patients with active Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) to those from patients with inactive disease, and individuals without MS.
The assay’s characteristics are minimally invasive and low cost, making it an affordable alternative to current approaches. The researchers will soon be expanding their research to other forms of MS, including primary progressive and secondary progressive MS – consistent, progressive forms of the disease that are less understood than RRMS, as well as other neurological diseases.
“For more than a century, Winthrop’s culture has been shaped by a commitment to integrating the highest quality patient care services with rigorous research initiatives,” said Alan Jacobson, MD, Winthrop’s Chief Research Officer. “This groundbreaking research addresses an important issue that can have a significant impact on public health and change people’s lives.”