A new study suggests that medical professionals might be able to spot early signs of multiple sclerosis (MS) using clues from patients' spinal tests.
The study's findings were released on Tuesday, but need further verification. If these findings do turn out to be true, researchers will have made a positive step in understanding the mysterious disease.
“It really tells us that MS may be affecting more parts of the brain much earlier than we anticipated,” said Timothy Coetzee, chief research officer at the National MS Society who wasn't involved with the new study, to the Associated Press.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. More than 2.1 million people worldwide currently suffer from the condition; however, this is a rough estimate since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn't require U.S. physicians to regularly report new cases.
MS is much more common in females than males and usually affects people 50 years or older. Caucasian individuals and people of northern or central European descent are also more likely to develop the autoimmune disease than Hispanics, Asians, and people of African descent. While MS may not be fatal, it often vastly limits many normal day-to-day functions.
Research was done at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School by Dr. Steven Schutzer. The study was done with nine patients. Schutzer used the patients' spinal flood that had been previously stored. What he discovered was that there were a small cluster of proteins detected that were specific to MS. Researchers know that gray matter affects MS, but they are still unsure as to how it affects the disease.
“Compared with spinal fluid from healthy people and from a dozen MS patients who've had the disease longer, that signature distinguished the early patients,” Schutzer wrote.
Currently, there is no single test for MS. Magnetic resonance imaging, evoked potential tests, and spinal taps are common methods of detecting the disease.