October 7, 2008
‘Breakthrough’ Test Could Lead to New Treatments for MS Sufferers Scottish Scientists to Present Findings in US
By JULIA HORTON
SCOTTISH scientists claim to have developed a "breakthrough" test that could lead to new medication for thousands of multiple sclerosis patients whose condition is currently untreatable.
Researchers at life sciences company Glasgow Health Solutions (GHS) revealed yesterday they have devised a blood test that detects levels of nitrotyrosine, a "bio marker" whose presence indicates chemical activity hat causes the nerve-cell damage that results in MS.
Early detection of the less obvious signs of the disease through such blood tests every three or six months could lead to new drugs to stop nerve damage in progressive forms of MS, for which there is currently no treatment.
GHS said he new test could also give doctors a cheap, easy alternative to the invasive, costly MRI scans and lumbar punctures hat are currently used to assess a patient's condition.
The MS Society Scotland warned, however, that while a simple blood test would be far better than the existing assessments, there was no firm proof yet that measuring nitrotyrosine was an accurate way of tracking the progression of the disease.
GHS research laboratory head Dr Thomas Gilhooly aims to prove the blood test's validity through further trials, for which he hopes to secure funding after presenting the findings at a key conference in America this week.
He said: "This blood test offers fresh hope to MS sufferers as it can detect when a patient is entering the active phases of the disease. It therefore could be a way of ensuring accurate and timely treatment of patients with the progressive forms of MS.
"This has the potential to unlock treatment for this group of patients and massively improve their quality of life. The terrifying aspect of MS for most sufferers is that they do not know how quickly, and how far, it will progress.
"This test gives them the certainty of diagnosis and the ability to begin effective treatment at a very early stage."
Dr Gilhooly admitted that the team was in the early stages of work on the test, developed through preparations for a trial of a potential MS treatment known as Low Dose Naltrexone.
Dr Gilhooly was optimistic that the test would prove successful as he prepared to go to Los Angeles to speak at the 4th Annual Low Dose Naltrexone Conference there on Saturday.
But an MS Society Scotland spokesman said: "There is some science that suggests nitrotyrosine levels are raised in people with MS, but its value as a biomarker simply has not been validated and therefore interpretation of the results would be open to question.
"It's also worth remembering that nitrotyrosine levels could be induced by a number of different things, including infections. Patients with progressive MS are more likely to get infections, particularly urinary tract infections, and this would confuse the results."
He added that there were no proven biomarkers for predicting MS itself and no drugs to suppress its progression, "so a positive result would not lead to a change in treatment or diagnosis".
Scotland has the highest incidence of MS in the world with an estimated 10,500, or one in every 500, people thought to have the unpredictable disease - and rates are still rising.
Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.
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