Michigan Researchers to Study Neurofilament Light Chain Blood Levels as a Predictor of Multiple Sclerosis

According to a publication from BioSpace, researchers from Michigan’s Memorial Healthcare Institute for Neurosciences and Multiple Sclerosis are taking full advantage of recent technological advances in neurofilament light chain testing by evaluating the process for multiple sclerosis screening.

Neurofilament light chains” (NfL) are structural proteins found in particularly high concentrations in the axons of nerve cells. NfLs provide structure and support to the rest of the nerve cell.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder characterized by the progressive atrophy of the myelin sheaths that provide protection and insulation for nerve cells.

As myelin sheaths degrade, the nerves themselves start to sustain damage directly. This can lead to sensory, motor, and neurological changes that can vary in their severity. Eventually, many patients lose significant amounts of sensory or motor function.

Despite everything researchers do know about MS, much about the condition still eludes our understanding. A single root cause of MS has not been established. Most researchers assume that the illness is autoimmune in nature, caused by malfunctioning and overly-aggressive immune responses that attack patients’ neurons as though they were foreign pathogens. However, that’s only the consensus — to this very day, we aren’t exactly sure what causes MS.

The most likely explanation is that MS simply has no simple singular “cause.” Much of the evidence suggests that rather than a single genetic mutation or collection of mutations causing the disease, it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Women are two to three times more likely than men to have relapsing-remitting symptoms, and family histories have been observed. However, smoking and vitamin D deficiency may also increase the likelihood of someone with symptoms eventually receiving a diagnosis.

Currently, no cure exists for multiple sclerosis. However, treatments that can help patients manage their symptoms do exist. In particular, patients may receive treatments that speed their recovery following acute bouts of symptoms commonly experienced by many with MS.

About Neurofilament Light Chains and the Hunt for New Metrics

Surprisingly, one of the most tricky parts of providing treatment is knowing whether or not the treatment is working at all. How do physicians determine when to provide treatment? Beyond that, how do they know if a treatment is successful? These questions can be particularly problematic for those treating MS, for which there may be no clear-cut answer.

That’s where Michigan’s Memorial Healthcare Institute for Neurosciences and Multiple Sclerosis and Neurofilament light chains come in. NfLs are proteins found in varying concentrations in the cytoplasm of neurons. When nerve cells sustain damage (such as in a physical injury, or in patients with degenerative nerve disorders), amounts of this protein “leak” out of neurons into the rest of the body.

Chief of Neurology Dr. Rany Aburashed and the rest of his team at the Memorial Healthcare Institute will be some of the first researchers in the country to study the potential of NfL-measuring to (hopefully) diagnose multiple sclerosis patients. In a study that will hopefully involve up to 1000 participants, Aburashed and his colleagues will attempt to measure the amount of NfL in patients’ blood. In theory, larger NfL measurements would imply greater damage to an individuals’ neurons — which could potentially be caused by multiple sclerosis.

“NfL has the potential to dramatically increase our ability to assess disease activity and change in real time,” Aburashed said of the study. If NfL works, it could help researchers track not only disease progress, but also the effectiveness of any treatment.

The ability to accurately test individuals’ blood NfL levels is only possible thanks to new technology. The advanced blood test, called SIMOA, is both consistent and reliable.

What do you think of this exciting study? Why is it important to have ways of “measuring” the severity of a patient’s condition? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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