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Case Western Reserve University researcher secures $1.2M to develop MS diagnostic tests

Case Western Reserve University researcher Farren Briggs was awarded $1.2 million over three years from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health. The funding will support research to identify biomarkers to improve the diagnoses of multiple sclerosis (MS), including the ability to monitor disease activity and progression.

Briggs, the principal investigator, will work in collaboration with colleagues at the Mayo Clinic and Duke University.

“It is possible that nearly 20% of the 900,000 people in the U.S. with an MS diagnosis may have been misdiagnosed,” said Briggs, an assistant professor in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. “The psychological, physical, financial and ethical costs of misdiagnosis are high. Not only does the underlying disease go untreated, but MS therapies have common side effects and can cause harm in those with other demyelinating disorders, so it is important to improve specificity in diagnosing MS.”

MS is a chronic and progressive autoimmune disease that attacks the protective sheath covering the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. MS symptoms are highly variable and can include impaired muscular coordination, numbness, tremors and severe fatigue, as well as impaired speech and blurred vision. Most people with MS experience phases when the disease seems stable or with improved symptoms that can last months or years. They can then unpredictably experience relapses with new or worsening symptoms.

Unfortunately, most available MS therapies only modify the inflammation that causes relapses. But these therapies have limited effect on the neurodegeneration that causes symptoms to get more severe. A challenge for drug development is the absence of reliable biomarkers that signal the onset of relapse or changes in the disease’s progression.

To address the challenge posed by initial misdiagnosis, Briggs and his colleagues will identify blood serum biomarkers that accurately classify people with MS, compared to unaffected individuals and those with other rare demyelinating and inflammatory diseases.

The team also will compare people with MS who experience relapses to those who do not, and will also compare benign and progressive MS. The goal is to identify biomarkers that can help monitor MS progression, which will contribute to improving clinical trials for new therapeutics to eventually improve treatment.

This article was originally published June 17, 2021.