New blood tests can detect early signs of multiple sclerosis

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A new study has uncovered an early indicator of multiple sclerosis (MS) that could enable doctors to identify individuals at risk for the disease long before symptoms emerge.

This research, detailed on April 19 in Nature Medicine, found that a specific set of antibodies in the blood could predict the onset of MS with remarkable accuracy.

The study was led by Dr. Michael Wilson, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who explained that one in every ten cases of MS could be identified years in advance.

Researchers observed that every participant with this particular antibody pattern eventually developed MS.

These findings are significant because they could lead to the development of a straightforward blood test for MS, a disease where early detection can dramatically improve outcomes.

MS is a debilitating condition where the immune system attacks the central nervous system, particularly the myelin sheath that protects nerve fibers.

This attack disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body, leading to a range of symptoms that affect movement and sensory functions.

The UCSF researchers analyzed blood samples from 250 individuals diagnosed with MS, comparing them against samples from healthy participants.

All samples originated from U.S. military personnel, who routinely provide blood samples upon enlistment. This unique cohort allowed the researchers to trace the development of autoimmune reactions that precede the clinical symptoms of MS.

Interestingly, while the team expected to see a spike in antibodies as patients first experienced MS symptoms, they discovered that 10% of the patients had high levels of autoantibodies—antibodies that target the body’s own tissues—well before their diagnosis was confirmed.

These antibodies were attracted to a chemical pattern similar to those found in common viruses, including the Epstein-Barr virus, which has been suggested in previous research as a potential trigger for MS.

These autoantibodies indicated that an immune response was occurring in the brain long before any symptoms of MS appeared. The study also noted elevated levels of a protein associated with neuron damage in these patients.

To validate their findings, the researchers examined additional blood samples from a separate study involving neurological symptoms and found the same autoantibody pattern in 10% of MS patients there as well.

Dr. Wilson highlighted the importance of this discovery, noting that diagnosing MS has been challenging due to the lack of specific biomarkers for the disease.

This breakthrough could provide much-needed diagnostic clarity and help doctors decide more confidently on starting treatment.

Although the cause of MS in the remaining 90% of patients remains unknown, this study marks a significant step towards understanding the early stages of the disease.

Dr. Stephen Hauser, director of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, emphasized the potential of these findings to transform the approach to MS, from managing symptoms to potentially curing the disease.

This could fundamentally change the future of MS treatment, offering new hope to those at risk.

If you care about wellness, please read studies about how ultra-processed foods and red meat influence your longevity, and why seafood may boost healthy aging.

For more information about wellness, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

The research findings can be found in Nature Medicine.

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