Research Helps to Catch Multiple Sclerosis at Onset

The National MS Society estimates that there are currently about 400,000
cases in the United States and more that 2 million people suffer from the
disease all over the world. Although there is currently no cure, a breakthrough
finding from a Tel Aviv University scientist and physician may lead to earlier
diagnosis, more effective intervention, and perhaps even a cure for the
autoimmune disease.

Anat Achiron, PhD of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of
Medicine and vice-dean of research at Sheba Medical Center has uncovered a new
way of detecting MS in the blood through her research at Sheba. The findings,
published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, are expected to
pave the way for a diagnosis of MS before symptoms can appear, allowing for
earlier treatment.

“We are not yet able to treat people with MS to prevent the onset
of the disease but knowledge is power,” Achiron said in a news release.
“Every time we meet a new patient exhibiting symptoms of MS, we must ask
ourselves how long this has been going on. We can diagnose MS by brain MRI, but
we’ve never been able to know how ‘fresh’ the disease is.”

If doctors can predict the onset of MS early enough, intervention
therapies using immunomodulatory drugs such as Copaxone or beta-interferon
drugs that stave off MS symptoms, might be used.

“We theorized that if we looked at the gene expression signature of
blood cells in healthy people, we could look for possible biological markers
that characterize those who subsequently developed MS,” Achiron said.

Examining blood samples of 20, 19-year-old Israelis who were inducted
into the army as healthy soldiers, and the nine of them who later developed MS,
Achiron and her team at Sheba were able to use a “high throughput
analysis” using more than 12,000 gene transcripts expressions. The
screening compared similarities and differences in the blood of those who
developed MS and those who did not, eventually establishing biological markers.

“Those who will develop MS will show a different blood signature
from those who will not,” Achiron said. “When we compared the gene
expression signatures, we saw a similar pattern of the same working biological

These early genetic markers may now be used to test for MS up to 9 years
before healthy young adults start developing symptoms. And because MS is
thought to have a genetic component and a tendency to be found in siblings,
Achiron said the biomarkers can be used as a tool for brothers and sisters of

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