Searching for Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis can be diagnosed with clinical MRI scanners

(RxWiki News) Diagnosing multiple sclerosis (MS) can be tough, partly because the symptoms can be different for each patient. But that might be about to change.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK have now successfully tested a new diagnostic method that uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for patients with MS.

Lead study author Nikos Evangelou, MD, PhD, said in a press release: "We already knew that large research MRI scanners could detect the proportion of lesions with a vein in the brain's white matter, but these scanners are not clinically available. So we wanted to find out whether a single brain scan in an NHS hospital scanner could also be effective in distinguishing between patients known to have MS and patients known to have non-MS brain lesions."

Dr. Evangelou is a neurologist and associate professor at Nottingham.

MS is a neurological condition with unpredictable symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Although the exact cause of the disease is unknown, it damages the protective tissue that covers nerves in the brain and nervous system. It also damages the nerves themselves.

MS usually develops slowly. Patients experience a wide variety of symptoms, including vision loss, pain, fatigue and impaired coordination. For these reasons, it is often difficult to diagnose.

Most large medical centers have clinical MRI scanners, which can show even very small internal structures in the body. Although MRI scans have previously been used to aid in the diagnosis of MS, Dr. Evangelou and team used a special type of MRI called a T2-weighted imaging process.

A T-2 scan can show lesions on veins inside the brain — a clear indication that a patient has MS.

For this study, researchers looked at 40 patients. The first half were divided into two groups: one with known MS, and one without MS but with brain lesions. All underwent T-2 scans.

Dr. Evangelou and team then used the results to develop diagnostic rules for future scans. Next, a doctor who had not been part of the first test reviewed the scans of the remaining 20 patients — 13 of whom had known MS. The doctor did not know which patients had MS and which did not.

When the diagnostic rules were applied to the scans, the doctor was able to correctly diagnose all of the patients in less than two minutes per scan.

Although promising, it's important to note that this was a small study. Dr. Evangelou and team are now expanding the study to see if it really is as accurate and fast as it appears to be.

"We are excited to reveal that our results show that clinical application of this technique could supplement existing diagnostic methods for MS,” Dr. Evangelou said.

The study was published Feb. 1 in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

Information on funding sources and conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
February 2, 2016