World-first blood test to aid prognosis and treatment of MS

03 February, 2017

An MS Research Australia incubator grant of just $15,000 has been the catalyst for a major International study, led by Australian researchers Dr Edwin Lim and Professor Gilles Guillemin from Macquarie University. They have discovered the first-ever blood biomarker – a chemical identifier in the blood – for distinguishing the different types of multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is the most commonly acquired neurological condition in young people in the world and is caused by the immune system attacking the body. It is a very complex and varied disease where treatment decisions and management for each individual can be challenging.

MS has three recognised forms, relapsing remitting MS, secondary progressive MS and primary progressive MS. The various forms of MS are likely to be due to different changes in the immune system and have very different outcomes and treatment implications. Traditionally, distinguishing between MS subtypes and confirming diagnosis has been a lengthy and challenging process requiring an array of tests. But the process looks set to change, thanks to this breakthrough. Professor Guillemin explains ‘This is a significant discovery because it will facilitate the ability to quickly and simply diagnose the three types of MS and will allow clinicians to adapt their treatment for MS patients more accurately and more rapidly’.

Our incubator grant program, which provides key seed funding for innovative and “out of the box” MS research ideas provided funding to this novel research in 2008. This pilot funding with outstanding research outcomes then led to an MS Research Australia Fellowship for Dr Lim, followed by further highly competitive NHMRC funding. Our analysis has shown that, on average, MS researchers have been able to leverage our incubator grant with over 27 times the initial funding from other prestigious sources.

Dr Matthew Miles CEO of MS Research Australia said ‘We have been excited to be part of the translation of this fundamental research into a potential clinical blood test. This has the clear capacity to be the first ever blood biomarker for the prognosis of MS, and in doing so will meet one of the real unmet needs in the clinical management of MS.’

Not only does this research open the possibility of a test to discriminate between the types of MS, but it might also provide key insights into the changes that go on at a cellular level leading to the different forms of MS enabling development of further, targeted, treatment options for people with MS. It also has potential implications for other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Motor Neuron Disease.

This entire process would never of been possible without the incredible funding support of the Trish MS Research Foundation, MS Angels (Sydney) and several other generous individuals.

The world-first research was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Scientific Reports, The scientists believe that a quick and accurate blood test for this could be a reality in the next 2 years.

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