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MRI can help predicting the progression of multiple sclerosis

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Posted July 25, 2019

Multiple sclerosis is a  demyelinating disease, characterized by the damage of the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain. There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis and long-term outcome is difficult to predict. MS is the most common immune-mediated disorder affecting the central nervous system with 2-2.5 million people suffering from this condition in the world. Now a new UCL-led study has found that early MRI scans could be used to predict the progression of the disease.

Multiple sclerosis is diagnosed by looking at plaques or lesions that develop on the white matter of the brain and spinal cord.Image credit: James Heilman, MD via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Predicting outcomes of multiple sclerosis is very difficult. Women, especially the ones who get MS early, usually face less adverse outcomes than men. It is estimated that MS sufferers have 5-10 years shorter life expectancy than healthy people, but 40 % of them reach the seventh decade of life. MRI is usually used to diagnose the disease, but now scientists think that it could also be used to predict its progression. This could help creating tailored treatment options for each individual.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, one of the authors of the study, said: “MS damages nerves in your body and makes it harder to do everyday things like walk, talk, eat and think. It’s also different for everyone and there isn’t currently a consistent way of predicting what course MS might take”.

Scientists found 164 people with clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) and followed them over 15 years period. CIS sufferers usually go on to have MS as well. After the 15 year research period scientists found the participants and assessed their disability levels. 57% had the relapsing form of multiple sclerosis, 15 % had the secondary progressive form, 27 % still had CIS and 1 % developed other disorders. Researchers took a look at MRIs of these people, collected over the extended research period and found  that early spinal cord damage indicates that patients are more likely to go on to develop the secondary progressive form of MS. In other words, MRI analysis allowed predicting the future disability level of each participant.

Being able to accurately predict the progression of MS is extremely important. This helps creating more effective treatment plans and patients themselves know what they can expect in the near future. Numerous studies have shown that early intensive treatment leads to a better MS prognosis. However, making such decision is difficult, when you don’t know what’s to come. MRI tests could help making those prognoses accurate.

MS patients are already being tested using MRI. Now scientists have to create guidelines that would point doctors at what to look and what particular symptoms will lead to. Hopefully, this will help millions of MS sufferers worldwide.

 

Source: UCL

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