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Wednesday, July 13, 2016
LI scientist finds new way to detect multiple sclerosis
Eitan M. Akirav, at his Mineola lab on July 5, 2016, has found a new way to
detect multiple sclerosis that holds promise for earlier diagnosis. (Credit:
Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)
Long Island scientist has found a new way to detect multiple sclerosis, a
discovery that may lead to an innovative diagnostic capable of accurately
revealing signs of the neurodegenerative disease sooner than current
technology, results of a new investigation show.
sclerosis is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disorder marked by turncoat
components of the immune system that wage war on the central nervous system.
The condition is the most common cause of neurological disability in young
adults and is marked by fatigue, weakness, double vision and impaired
coordination, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, Eitan M. Akirav, a researcher who
specializes in the biology of autoimmune disorders, has discovered a biomarker
— a signpost of the disease — that until now had been unknown. Akirav and his
team found telltale DNA in the blood, a sign of damaged cells in the brain.
scientists are working on the biomarker to exploit its potential both as a
highly accurate diagnostic target and as a biological bull’s-eye that doctors
can home in on to determine a patient’s overall prognosis. In addition, there
is a possibility of using the biomarker to determine how well certain drugs are
working, Akirav said.
have tremendous hope that this will improve the quality of care that is
available to patients with MS,” said Akirav, who also is an assistant professor
of medicine at Stony Brook University’s medical school.
and his team found DNA specific to these cells: the oligodendrocytes, key
components in the brain that provide insulating support to the axons of nerve
cells. Axons are vital because they are the electrical superhighway along which
nerve impulses instantly fire. The axons are coated in fat — myelinated — as a
form of insulation, just as electrical wires are protected with plastic or
in MS patients, traitor elements from the immune system bombard the
oligodendrocytes, disrupting their ability to insulate the axons. Multiple
sclerosis has long been known as a disease of demyelination, a loss of
axon-protecting fat. The disorder waxes and wanes between episodes of worsening
disease and periods of remission. There is no cure.
measure the DNA in the blood as it is dumped from these dying cells,” Akirav
said, noting that he and his team can identify this suspect DNA as having come
directly from the brain and nowhere else in the body. That makes the discovery
a surefire way to identify annihilation of axon insulation, he said.
possibility associated with the newly found biomarker is a quicker diagnosis of
multiple sclerosis, Akirav said.
can see this by a blood sample, without an invasive procedure,” he added.
“Studying the blood is a direct route to studying the brain.”
diagnostic criteria call for a complex series of tests. Doctors also must rule
out other possible causes of neurological symptoms similar to MS, such as
clinically isolated syndrome, a condition that has MS features but none of the
long-lasting characteristics of the disease.
from the International Panel on the Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, for
example, require an MRI of the brain; a spinal tap for the analysis of
cerebrospinal fluid, which protects the spinal cord; and a visual test because
of damage the disease can cause to the optic nerve. Evidence of damage in at
least two separate areas of the central nervous system must be found before a
definitive diagnosis is made, experts say.
discovery, reported this month in the journal EBioMedicine, comes on the heels
of several spotlighted efforts to diagnose — and treat — multiple sclerosis.
April, scientists at Tisch MS Research Center in Manhattan reported
results from a stem cell trial in which damaged nerve axons were remyelinated
in patients. One patient no longer needed a cane, lead investigator Dr. Saud
cells are blank slates capable of transforming into virtually any kind of cell
under proper conditions. Patients in the early clinical trial have had positive
results without side effects, Sadiq said.
New York Academy of Sciences, meanwhile, sponsored a meeting June 28 in
Manhattan where doctors and scientists zeroed in on “laboratory bench to
bedside care” in multiple sclerosis,
examined concerns similar to Akirav’s research: diagnostics, prognostics and
predictive biomarkers. They concluded that research into all of these areas is
vital if further advances are to be made against the disease.
Giancarlo Comi, director of neurology at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in
Milan, Italy, told those at the meeting that of utmost concern is the need to
grasp an even stronger understanding of the “relapsing” phase of the disease,
the stage marked by destruction of the nerves’ axons.
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