In MS, permanent disability occurs when brain cells known as neurons are damaged following an immune attack. Current treatments reduce the number and severity of immune attacks, but many patients still develop permanent disability over time. This is because an immune attack can trigger slow neuron damage that continues after the attack ceases. There is currently no direct way to measure the amount of neuron damage in humans, so it is difficult to develop new drugs to prevent it. To address this need, we will trial a new blood test for measuring neuron damage in MS patients.
This project will enable us to ascertain whether blood assays can be used as tools to monitor levels of neurodegeneration in MS patients. A positive finding is likely to facilitate clinical trials of neuroprotective therapy in MS, which are not currently feasible.
The assay may be applicable to clinical management, providing a gauge of therapeutic efficacy (monitoring tool). Persistently elevated levels of a specific biomarker may ultimately correlate with more rapid development of progressive disease. This information could be used to tailor treatment schedules to individual patient needs, and to facilitate early identification of patients with aggressive forms of the disease and provide a novel tool for therapeutic monitoring.
So far, Dr Gresle has shown that higher than normal blood neurofilament levels can be detected in some patients with relapsing-remitting MS. These patients have a higher level of disability than patients with normal levels of this protein.
These preliminary studies provide strong evidence that elevated blood neurofilament levels are detectable in a proportion of patients with RR-MS, using the blood test refined in the University of Melbourne laboratory in collaboration with its inventor, Professor Gerry Shaw.
The MS Research Australia incubator grant has now allowed Dr Gresle and her colleagues to successfully apply for NHMRC funding of approximately $550,000 to continue this work for the next three years to confirm these observations. This discovery could provide an important tool for testing new therapies in MS patients.
Updated: 03 January, 2009