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Eye Scan May Help Diagnose, Treat MS
Date:10/15/2007

The inexpensive test could lead to new drugs, researchers add

MONDAY, Oct. 15 (HealthDay News) -- A short and simple eye scan not only appears capable of spotting multiple sclerosis earlier in the course of the disease, but might also provide a way to track progression of the illness, as well as the effectiveness new drugs in development, researchers say.

"We're in the process of validating this [eye exam] for clinical utility," said Dr. Peter Calabresi, lead author of the study and director of the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center. "But the data we've seen are so compelling that I do predict that every MS center will be using this in three to five years."

Patricia O'Looney, vice president of biomedical research programs at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, called the new study "small" but the "results are certainly encouraging that would indicate that [this test], in conjunction with an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] would provide key information to go forward in developing new drugs."

The findings, which involve a technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT), are published in the October issue of the journal Neurology.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system in which myelin -- the protective covering of nerves -- is damaged. Much research into the disease has focused on the damage to the myelin. But it is becoming increasingly evident that the axon, or nerve fiber, is also damaged in individuals with MS.

"Better technology has shown that the axons are damaged earlier in the disease than originally thought," O'Looney explained. "If you remove the protective covering then you're going to impact what's underneath, in this case, the axon. That makes sense."

In fact, according to the study authors, axon degeneration resulting from "demyelination" and from inflammation is thought to be responsible for much of the permanent disability
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