MULTIPLE Sclerosis (MS) may be detectable years before symptoms begin to manifest, a study has found.
An antibody found in the blood of people with MS may be present long before the onset of the disease and its symptoms, scientists revealed.
According to the research, to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April, the discovery of the antibody means the potential prevention of symptoms.
Dr Viola Biberacher, of the Technical University in Germany, said: “If our results can be replicated in larger populations, our findings may help to detect MS earlier in a sub-group of patients. Finding the disease before symptoms appear means we can better prepare to treat and possibly even prevent those symptoms.”
She added that her findings demonstrated that antibodies known as KIR4.1 developing into a protein found in people with MS precede the onset of the disease, suggesting how it develops. Scientists compared the blood from 16 healthy donors, who were later diagnosed with MS, to 16 healthy blood donors of the same age and sex who did not develop the illness, looking specifically for the antibody.
Samples were collected between two and nine months before the first symptoms appeared. Next, researchers looked at antibody levels in the blood at additional points up to six years before and then after disease onset, in those who had the KIR4.1 antibody in their blood.
All of the healthy donors tested negative for the antibody, but of those who later developed MS, seven were found to carry the antibody, two showed borderline activity and seven were negative. In the study, KIR4.1 antibodies were found in the people with pre-clinical MS several years before the first attack.
Dr Biberacher concluded: “The next step is to confirm these findings in larger groups and determine how many years before onset of disease the antibody response develops.”
Scotland has among the highest prevalence of MS in the world, with around 10,000 sufferers. Rankings published in the Atlas of MS 2013 showed the rate across the UK stood at 164 cases per 100,000 people.
Rates across the globe have risen by 9.5 per cent since 2008, with 2.3 million people estimated to have the disease.
The Multiple Sclerosis International Federation estimated the prevalence of MS in Scotland was 188 cases per 100,000 people, slightly behind Northern Ireland at 190 but higher than 138 in Wales and 162 in England.
Factors such as lack of sunshine and genetics are thought to be behind the difference, with other northern hemisphere countries also having high rates of MS, including Canada at 291 cases per 100,000 people, Denmark at 227 and Sweden at 189.
There is no cure for MS, which affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Women are twice as likely to have MS as men in the UK, and in some countries three times as likely.
The study found the number of neurologists worldwide had increased by 30 per cent and the provision of MRI machines, key to early diagnosis and treatment, had doubled in the past five years in emerging countries.
The report also estimated that up to 5 per cent of people with MS developed it before the age of 18.