Thursday, June 18, 2009

NYU research tries to better track early MS symptoms

From NY1:

David Rice Jr. had not even reached his 40th birthday when he found out he had multiple sclerosis.

"I was sad. You think about your future, and you think, what's my future going to be? Am I going to be a burden to someone? What's going to happen with me?" says Rice.

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic disease that basically attacks the nervous system. Often diagnosed in younger adults in their late 20s to early 30s, the disease can cause mild symptoms such as weakness or numbness of limbs, or be severe enough to cause vision loss or paralysis.

"If you are diagnosed with the disease, it's very difficult and very unreliable to try and focus what will your course be, whether you are going to end up in a wheelchair in three to five years, or if you're going to live a happy-go-lucky life for decades," says Dr. Oded Gonen of New York University Langone Medical Center.

Gonen is currently running a study tracking 25 MS patients from what appear to be the early stages of disease. Rice is one of those patients.

Because conventional imaging or MRIs only tell part of the story, Gonen brings together a number of imaging techniques to gain more insight into how severe the disease will become.

Applying a technique called spectroscopy, he measures metabolic markers in the brain to help better predict what's going on.

Early on, Gonen says tests revealed elevated levels of choline, the marker for the inflammatory stage of the disease. As inflammation appears to happen first, Gonen says that indicates more anti-inflammatory drugs should be developed to stop the disease from advancing. Treatments available now just address the symptoms.

"They make the patients feel better and their symptoms are less frequent, and that's a good thing. They can lead normal lives, but the progression, the deteriorating progression of the disease, continues beneath the surface," says Gonen.

Gonen says that he plans to track patients like Rice for as long as possible, hoping one day his research may not only lead to more effective drugs, but a long-awaited cure.