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Blood Test for MS a Possibility

Findings suggest detection of certain peptides could diagnose disease

FRIDAY, March 25, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A simple blood test may one day detect multiple sclerosis before its debilitating symptoms take hold.

Researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have identified three peptides (protein components) that are present in people with the degenerative nerve disease, but not in people without the condition. The finding could lead to the development of a blood test to spot the disease, which currently requires a round of tests and exams to arrive at a conclusive diagnosis.

Other doctors, however, caution that while the identification of the peptides is a step forward, it is a long way from becoming a clinical tool in the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Finding a distinct pattern of three biomarkers of peptides among the MS patients "suggests the potential for developing a blood test that could allow us to identify the earliest changes that represent MS, and help in its diagnosis," wrote lead researcher Dr. Jagannadha Avasarala, who was affiliated with Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center at the time of the study.

The findings appear in the March 24 issue of the Journal of Molecular Neuroscience.

For the study, researchers compared blood samples from 25 patients who were newly diagnosed with MS to those from 25 people without the disease to see if there were any pattern of proteins and peptides unique to the MS patients.

The MS patients had the most common form of the disease, which is called relapse-remitting and is characterized by attacks that come only periodically. None of them were taking medication and their average age was 29, while the average age of the control group was 28.

The researchers found three peptide biomarkers in all the MS patients that were not present in those without the disease. Proteins are made by genes, and the information locked in the genes is expressed by the proteins. Peptides are the building blocks of proteins.

The findings were made using mass spectrometry, a tool that analyzes proteins with a special software that can recognize protein patterns. Predictive Diagnostics, a California company, developed the technology and funded the research.

"This is an interesting step in the identification of peptides that are unique to MS, but in terms of making a diagnosis, it isn't useful," said Dr. William Sheremata, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

He said while work with spectrometry is used in many areas of science in identifying compounds in the brain and does represent a new approach to chemistry, using the information to create a simple blood test would require continued research.

MS is currently diagnosed is by a combination of physical criteria, such as difficulty walking due to muscle weakness, loss of vision in one eye, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that detects white spots on the brain.

MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that affects the brain and spinal cord. Doctors think the immune system mistakes the proteins that surround the nerves in the central nervous system as foreign and directs antibodies to fight them, resulting in inflammation and injury to the myelin sheath that surround the nerves.

MS affects more than 1 million people around the world, striking twice as many women as men. Symptoms most often appear between the ages of 20 and 40. In some people, MS is a mild illness but for others it results in permanent disability. Treatments can modify the course of the disease and ease symptoms, but there is no cure.

More information

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers a comprehensive explanation of MS.

SOURCES: William Sheremata, M.D., director, Multiple Sclerosis Center, University of Miami School of Medicine; March 15, 2005, Journal of Molecular Neuroscience
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