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SYS-CON UK Authors: Salvatore Genovese, Jamie Matusow

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Blood Test May Predict Course of MS

LONDON, August 31 /PRNewswire/ -- Scientists have discovered a blood test that could predict the course of multiple sclerosis (MS), or even indicate who is likely to develop the condition after a first MS-like attack.

The results of the study suggest that differing antibody levels produced in response to the common virus Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), may predict the course of MS.

If proven in further studies, this would be the first credible biological indicator, or biomarker, identified for MS that could predict disability progression from a simple blood test.

The innovative work was carried out at the Institute of Neurology, UCL and the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, Barts and The London and was funded by the MS Society.

It is hoped the findings will aid the development of better ways to predict who goes on to develop MS after initial MS-like symptoms and help in identifying more effective therapies for the 100,000 people living with MS in the UK.

The paper's lead author, Clinical Research Fellow Dr Rachel Farrell, said: "All the participants in our study had previous history of infection with EBV, which has been shown in other studies and is not surprising given that a large majority of the adult population is infected with EBV.

"What was surprising is that the levels of a molecule in the blood called anti-EBNA-1 IgG, induced by the virus, were associated with the activity of MS.

"The results of this work show that those participants who had new areas of MS damage in the brain also had high levels of the anti-EBNA-1 IgG molecule in their blood.

"In addition, participants with higher levels of EBNA-1 in the bloodstream were more likely to have an increase over time in the disability associated with MS."

The researchers received funding of nearly GBP 35,000 from the MS Society's Innovation Research grant scheme and looked at 100 participants, 50 of whom had a single MS-like attack but no diagnosis of MS, 25 people with relapsing remitting MS and 25 with primary progressive MS.

They tested participants for evidence of EBV infection in the blood and also looked for anti-EBNA-1 IgG and other EBV induced antibodies. MRI brain scans of each participant were taken over a five year period and the scientists also measured disability progression.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Neurology, concluded that anti-EBNA-1 IgG is a potential biomarker in MS that might be useful in predicting disability and progression.

They added that the work needed to be validated in larger studies and in combination with other as yet unidentified biomarkers.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Research Communications Officer at the MS Society said, "We're delighted that such an interesting study has produced these valuable results that will give scientists a new avenue of MS research to explore.

"Identifying biomarkers of MS is a key area of research and this work is a stepping stone on the path to mapping out the course of the condition and potentially determining prognosis.

"People with MS find the uncertainty of what the future holds very daunting so more knowledge about what might lie in store could be a big help."

Notes to Editors:

    
    - The MS Society (http://www.mssociety.org.uk) is the UK's
      largest charity dedicated to supporting everyone whose life is 
      touched by multiple sclerosis (MS), providing respite care, an 
      award-winning freephone helpline (+44(0)808-800-8000), specialist MS 
      nurses and funding more than 80 vital MS research projects in the UK.

    - MS is the most common disabling neurological condition affecting
      young adults and an estimated 100,000 people in the UK have MS.

    - MS is the result of damage to myelin - the protective sheath
      surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system - which 
      interferes with messages between the brain and the body.

    - For some people, MS is characterised by periods of relapse and
      remission while for others it has a progressive pattern.

    - Symptoms range from loss of sight and mobility, fatigue,
      depression and cognitive problems. There is no cure and few effective
      treatments.

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