Photo: Close up of researcher using a pippette

Biomarkers: the road to certainty

One of our strategic goals is to give people with MS more certainty about their future. To help achieve this, researchers are investigating the biomarkers of MS.

What’s a biomarker?

Biological markers (or biomarkers) are detectable changes in the body. They can be anything from molecules in your blood to visible physical changes.

Biomarkers can be extremely useful in diagnosing, tracking and predicting the course of a condition. Lumbar punctures and MRIs are both used for diagnosis in MS. But has the full potential of biomarkers been realised?

The uncertainty of MS

MS is a complex condition. The signs and symptoms are different for everyone, and getting a definite diagnosis can be a long and difficult journey.

Judging when someone’s MS has moved from a relapsing form to a more progressive form can be equally difficult. Knowing this is important in deciding what treatment options are the best for that person.

More research into biomarkers will reduce this uncertainty.

Reducing uncertainty about the future

Scientists have recently identified new biomarkers in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). These could both diagnose MS more efficiently and help predict how someone’s condition will progress.

We are supporting two new projects looking for biomarkers in MS as part of our latest funding round.

Professor Daniel Anthony from Oxford is developing a blood test that can tell the difference between relapsing and progressive forms of MS. This could be used to monitor progression of the condition over time.

It’s hoped the test will improve diagnosis time and show more quickly if a disease modifying therapy is working or not.

Dr Alastair Wilkins’ team from the University of Bristol are looking at a specific protein in the CSF. If it is a biomarker of damage to nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord, then measuring it early could help predict how likely symptoms are to progress and how quickly.

Speeding up clinical trials

Some of the most important biomarkers are changes seen on MRI scans.

In relapsing MS, special gadolinium-enhanced MRIs are used to assess the levels of inflammation in the brain. This can help decide more quickly if DMTs are working or not in clinical trials.

We want to be able to do the same in clinical trials of treatments for progressive MS.

Through the Progressive MS Alliance, researchers in Canada are leading an international team to identify an MRI biomarker of clinical progression in progressive MS. This will allow us to identify promising treatments more quickly and accurately in phase 2 clinical trials.