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New Study Asks: When Does MS Begin?

January 14, 2020

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston and collaborators report on a study that examined blood (serum) samples from 60 military personnel who went on to develop multiple sclerosis years later. Compared to samples from a control group, those who eventually developed MS showed higher than usual levels of a molecule (neurofilament light chain - NfL) that reflects damage to the nervous system.
 
  • The levels of NfL were increased as early as six years before the clinical onset of MS.
  • In addition, among those eventually diagnosed with MS, the levels of NfL increased over time while this was not the case for controls.
  • Other studies (such as this large Canadian study) have shown that years before they are diagnosed with MS, people can show a distinct pattern of doctor visits for specific problems.
  • Together, these studies suggest that changes in the nervous system related to MS begin well before there are perceptible symptoms, offering hope that there will be a way to predict and prevent MS before it becomes full-blown disease.
  • Studies of NfL in the bloodstream and in spinal fluid have been underway to better define how this biomarker may be employed to help detect and predict disease activity and response to treatments, not only in MS but in other disorders.
The team, including Drs. Kjetil Bjornevik and Alberto Ascherio, published its findings in the January 2020 issue of JAMA Neurology (published early online in September 2019).
 

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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