It is now recognised that immune attacks in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) cause damage to both the insulating myelin sheath of nerves and the nerve fibres themselves. Damaged nerve fibres cannot be repaired, and this is thought to be the main cause of permanent disability in MS.
Despite the successful use of disease modifying drugs that reduce the number and severity of relapses, many patients gradually accumulate permanent disabilities because some inflammation and nerve fibre damage still occurs. It is therefore clear that in addition to disease modifying drugs, nerve fibre protective (neuroprotective) therapies, are required to prevent disabilities in people with MS.
The major impediment to developing neuroprotective therapies for MS is that there is currently no direct way to measure the amount of nerve fibre damage that occurs in humans, so that the potential efficacy of candidate drugs cannot be tested.
To address this need, Professor Butzkueven and his team have developed a new blood test for nerve fibre damage. This blood test detects neurofilament protein, which is only found in nerve fibres. When nerve fibres are damaged, neurofilament protein is slowly released into the blood where it can be measured.
The team’s initial studies show that blood neurofilament levels are increased in a proportion of MS patients compared to healthy volunteers, and that these patients tend to have more rapidly progressing disease and larger brain lesions on MRI scans.
In this study Mr Morris aims to demonstrate that these results are reproducible and reliable in blood samples from a large, well characterised group of MS patients and healthy volunteers from the USA-based ‘Accelerated cure for multiple sclerosis’ project. This will allow the blood test to then be fully developed as a clinical tool for monitoring disease and testing new neuroprotective therapies.
Updated: 30 June 2013
Updated: 04 January, 2012