Getting the jump on multiple sclerosis: Blood test shows promise as predictor

September 28, 2005

By Neco Cockburn
The Ottawa Citizen

An Ottawa doctor has found that a blood test may predict the activity of multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Mark Freedman, a University of Ottawa professor and neurologist at the Ottawa Hospital, discovered that a test successfully determined whether patients would develop an active form of the disease after their first neurological attack, according to a news release.

Results are based on a small sample of patients, but point to the possibility that the blood test could allow neurologists to prescribe proper treatment early on.

Doctors now cannot predict whether a patient who has suffered a single neurological event -- such as a lengthy onset of double vision, numbness from the waist down, or sudden unsteadiness when walking -- will develop a mild or active form of MS.

The uncertainty can cause people who do not require treatment for an active form of the disease to receive expensive therapy that can lead to adverse side-effects or anxiety. Conversely, others who face the active form might not receive early, aggressive treatment.

"Knowing at this earliest timepoint that a patient is destined to develop active disease would greatly assist this decision," Dr. Freedman is quoted as saying in the statement.

Dr. William McIlroy, national medical adviser with the MS Society of Canada, cautioned that the sample size was small, but called the findings "potentially ... an exciting, important development.

"If you see a person who's only had one attack right now, you just don't know whether their disease is going to progress rapidly over the next couple of years or whether it's going to progress more slowly," Dr. McIlroy said in an interview.

"Do you want to subject people to costs and uncertainties and injections if it's not necessary at this time?"

Dr. McIlroy said the current trend is to treat MS patients earlier rather than later because the benefit appears to be greatest with early treatment.

"But at the same time, there are people who have their first attack of MS and then have nothing for 10 or 15 years," he added.

"It's difficult. ... A test that would tell you whether they had a more active form of the disease or not would be another important bit of information for the neurologist and the patient to consider."

The test, which uses certain markers in the blood, was developed by Glycominds Ltd., an Israel-based company.

Using retrospective blood samples taken from 90 patients after their first neurological attack, it correctly identified the 36 per cent of patients who suffered additional events during the two years following the first attacks, the release said.

Dr. McIlroy noted that two years is a "very limited" observation period.

The company says it plans further external testing on thousands of retroactive patient samples and hopes to have the product on the market next year.

Dr. Freedman, the principal investigator of the study, called PRACTIMS (prognosis and response of anti-carbohydrate titer in MS), and Avinoam Dukler, CEO of Glycominds Ltd., could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Freedman is to discuss the findings at the joint meeting of the European and Americas committees for the treatment and research in multiple sclerosis this week in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Note: Reproduced with permission from the Ottawa Citizen.