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Research Suggests Smell Sensitivity May Help Predict if MS Treatments are Working

March 18, 2022

In a study of 123 people with relapsing MS, researchers at the Medical University of Vienna tested whether smell sensitivity was linked to responses to treatment. When improvements in the ability to smell occurred in the first year of starting an MS disease-modifying treatment, participants were less likely to experience a relapse. If this study is confirmed, sensitivity to odors could someday become an easily trackable marker of treatment response. 
  • One pathway to MS cures is stopping MS in its tracks, that is, achieving no worsening of disease for each individual with MS. To do this, we need biomarkers that can predict disease course and quickly determine if a treatment is working. Alterations in a person’s sense of smell may be a candidate, since sense of smell has been found to be impaired during an MS relapse.
  • In this study, Gabriel Bsteh, MD, PhD, and colleagues tested smell sensitivity in 123 people with MS using pen-like odor-dispensing devices. Smell was tested at the beginning of disease-modifying treatment, after three months, and after 12 months. The primary goal of the study was to determine whether improvements in smell sensitivity were linked to relapses.
  • At each time point, better smell sensitivity was linked to a reduction in the risk of having a relapse. This link was strongest three months after treatment was started, and relapse risk decreased substantially with each point of improvement from the time treatment started to month 3. This improvement was also linked to signs of reduced inflammation seen on brain MRI scans.
  • The authors caution against interpreting data from a single study. If backed up by further research, smell sensitivity might represent an inexpensive, quick way to predict disease activity and personalize treatment for individuals with MS.
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“Olfactory threshold predicts treatment response in relapsing multiple sclerosis” by Gabriel Bsteh, Harald Hegen, Klaus Berek , Patrick Altmann , Michael Auer, Franziska Di Pauli, Lukas Haider, Fritz Leutmezer, Paulus Rommer , Lisa-Maria Walchhofer, Sebastian Wurth, Anne Zinganell, Florian Deisenhammer and Thomas Berger is published in the MS Journal (Published March 12, 2022)

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. 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. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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