We all like to make plans, whether it’s settling down and starting a family, plotting our next career move, or buying that plush house by the sea (hey we can dream, can’t we?). But when you have a complex condition like MS, it can be tough to plan your day let alone the future.
For starters, the disease is so incredibly variable. Some people experience the mildest of symptoms, while others find it can seriously affect their quality of life, affecting everything from energy levels to muscle strength and mobility.
Predicting the course of MS
But it’s the unpredictable course of MS that carries the most uncertainty, because no two cases are identical. There are similarities – in fact, experts have identified three main sub-types of MS , based upon the most common patterns of progression. From the up-and-down, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t nature of relapsing–remitting MS (RRMS), to the gradual decline seen in primary and secondary progressive forms of the disease (PPMS and SPMS, respectively), each appears to follow a distinct path.
But even if you know which form of MS you have, there’s no way to predict how your particular condition is likely to progress. And it’s this not knowing that can be a huge cause of anxiety for anyone living with the condition. Sure, your doctor can assess your symptoms and make an informed guess, but no one can ever know for certain. Until now that is. Drum roll…
The MS breakthrough set to change lives
An international team of scientists, led by Macquarie University in Australia, has been working away behind the scenes to take some of the guesswork out of MS – and it looks like they may have cracked it. Not only have the researchers hit upon the first blood biomarker for MS – a chemical in the blood that identifies a person has MS – the test can be used to confirm which form of the disease with up to 91% accuracy .
It all started when the researchers noticed brain inflammation appeared to be associated with the breakdown of an amino acid called tryptophan . On taking a closer look at the chemical changes involved in this pathway (also known as the kyneuranine pathway, but KP will do just fine), they discovered that levels of two compounds in particular – quinolinic acid (QA) and kynurenic acid (KA) – changed depending on the extent of inflammation . In fact, the ratio of these two markers can be used to confirm what course a person’s MS is taking with amazing accuracy. For example, KA levels are highest in people with RRMS and lowest in progressive forms of the disease ; while levels of QA increase with the severity of a person’s condition .
Monitoring the progression of MS
So that’s the science – but how does any of it relate to you? Well, if you’ve been given a diagnosis of MS and you want to know how your condition is progressing, then this test could help remove the biggest question mark of all. It could also help you and your doctor make more informed decisions about your treatment. If, for example, your KP profile shows your QA levels are rising despite taking your meds, it’s a good sign that it may be time to change strategies. Conversely, if levels of QA remain unchanged, you can rest assured your treatment is hitting the spot. And the really awesome news is that the researchers reckon the KP profiling test will be good to go in as little as two years .
Of course, even with this test, there are no guarantees – each person’s body responds differently to the disease after all. Sometimes, though, just knowing where you’re at right now can relieve some of the anxiety and free up emotional energy for other things. Like planning a bright and happy future, for example. Because not even MS should get in the way of dreams.