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Long Island Scientist Discovers Alternative Way to Detect MS

July 11, 2016

A scientist stationed in Long Island has developed a new way to detect multiple sclerosis. A recent investigation has shown that this method is capable of revealing signs sooner than any current technology.

At Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, Eitan M. Akirav, a researcher who specializes in the biology of autoimmune disorders, has discovered a biomarker — in other words, a sign 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.

The 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. The scientist said there is a possibility of using the biomarker to determine how well certain drugs are working as well, which would be a great step.

“We 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.
He 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 rubber.

However, in MS patients, traitor elements from the immune system bombard the oligodendrocytes, disrupting their ability to insulate the axons.

We 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.
Another possibility associated with the newly found biomarker is a quicker diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Akirav said.

“We can see this by a blood sample, without an invasive procedure,” he added. “Studying the blood is a direct route to studying the brain.”