MS progression: Is the answer in your spine?

People living with multiple sclerosis will often be familiar (or probably over-familiar in their opinion) with lumbar punctures. Lumbar punctures are a common diagnostic test for MS that involves taking a sample of a person’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This is the fluid that surrounds both the brain (inside the skull) and the spine (inside the backbone).

The procedure involves inserting a thin needle into the base of the spine to withdraw the fluid, which, as you can imagine or will have experienced, can feel quite uncomfortable. The fluid is then analysed for specific molecules like white blood cells, of which certain levels can be a sign of MS.

While this method currently acts as a diagnostic tool, a recent study led by the University of Birmingham has found that looking at the CSF could also predict the future…

Spine-tingling research:

No, we are not talking about the stuff of crystal balls and tarot cards here, but instead about the possibility the things that make up the CSF could be the key to predicting the progression of MS.

In the six-year study, the research team looked at levels of different molecules in the spinal fluid of people with MS at the time of their diagnosis, to see if there was a connection with the amount their disease had progressed five years later.

The researchers found that there was a very high ratio of a certain antibody (a type of protein involved in the immune system) in the CSF of the study participants but that the ratio was mostly higher in participants who were still in the early stages of the disease and less high in the people who had progressed.

Higher or lower: the antibody round

This means levels of this antibody could be used to see whether a person with MS is at a higher risk of progressing to a disability sooner and should therefore receive a more aggressive treatment from the get-go. In the same way, it could show when someone is at a lower risk and their symptoms can be managed with less intense treatment.

Much more research needs to be carried out in order to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of this test, so, sigh of relief, no need to ask the doctor for a lumbar puncture just yet. But if successful, the research could mean more personalized treatment for many people living with MS and hopefully better outcomes as a result – verte-yay!

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Birgit Bauer
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Birgit Bauer
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