In a Scottish clinic part-funded by Harry Potter author, JK Rowling, scientists are embarking on a groundbreaking study that could revolutionise the way multiple sclerosis (MS) is treated.
Currently there is no way to predict the severity of neurological condition when people are newly diagnosed.
Most sufferers will experience bouts of symptoms called ‘relapses’, but doctors cannot predict how often, and how severe, these relapses will be. This can make it difficult for people to make decisions about their lifestyle, work and family.
Now a new Scottish wide study FutureMs, carried out by the Anne Rowling Clinic in Edinburgh, will use MRI-scanning, genetic testing and clinical examinations to predict the severity of an individuals MS.
Scientists say this first of its kind study will allow clinicians to work out how best to treat patients, and remove the uncertainty that a diagnosis of MS can bring.
Scotland has one of the highest incidences of the disease in the world, with around 10,000 people suffering from the condition, which occurs when the protective coating surrounding nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord is damaged or destroyed.
Professor Siddharthan Chandran, clinic director and professor of neurology, at the Anne Rowling Centre, said: “The newly diagnosed person with MS doesn’t know the natural history of how their disease will progres. No two people are the same, and the outcome is crucial to how they plan their lives and how they will be treated by their doctor.
“Some drugs, with harsher side effects could be suitable for someone with severe MS, but if symptoms are mild then a doctor may take a different view on whether to use the treatment. It is about creating personalised medicine.
“There are 11 individual drugs that can be used to treat multiple sclerosis. At the moment we use clinical judgement to decide what course of treatment someone will have. But now with the emergence of new tools, imaging and blood genetic testing we will be able to, in time, work out how best to treat patients.”
Dr Sorrel Bickley, head of biomedical research at the MS Society in Scotland said: “At the point of diagnosis a person doesn’t know how their condition is going to progress, or to what severity. We welcome the Future MS study, which will seek to address this. The outcomes of this study could lead to people diagnosed with MS in the future being offered the treatments which will be most effective in their condition.”
The recruitment phase for the study will launch in April.