Doctor bending over a large MRI image of a brain. She points at a lesion and white matter in the brain.

New MRI Technique Promises to Help MS Patients

All diseases benefit from the early discovery. It improves the odds of survival and can provide a pathway to efficient treatment. Having magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is almost a rite of passage for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). The MRI can help detect MS and plays an important role in ongoing treatment. New MRI research may pave the way to earlier diagnosis.

Beyond the MRI

People living with multiple sclerosis are intimately familiar with MRIs. Whether it is used as a diagnostic technique or as an ongoing tool for treatment, the MRI is an essential part of most MS healthcare. Regularly scheduled MRIs can detect changes that occur in lesions, but they are unable to discern in detail microscopic or biochemical changes at earlier stages.1

Some of us are fortunate enough to have access to yearly MRIs are able to know the status of our lesions. We can see if lesions have grown or if there are new ones. However, there is more going on with multiple sclerosis than just lesions. If a new method related to MRIs can provide us with more data about our MS health we can make better informed medical decisions.

The MRSI difference

Researchers at the MedUni Vienna's Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-guided Therapy have developed a new MRI method that may prove to be a big leap forward in multiple sclerosis diagnosis. In a paper published in the journal, Radiology, the research team detailed the technique called MR spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) which is able to detect more than demyelinating lesions. It can detect "...metabolic alterations in normal-appearing white matter and cortical gray matter." In short, according to study leader Wolfgang Bogner,"This [new technique] allowed us to visualize changes in regions that appear normal on conventional MRI scans."1,2

Being able to see more with MRIs helps in early detection because unlike conventional techniques, MRSI can spot neurochemicals that are associated with multiple sclerosis. Being able to identify them not only leads to earlier diagnosis but can possibly predict disease progression. Currently, the MRSI technique is only available for research purposes and at the MedUni Vienna in Austria. However, the Eva Niess-led team has hopes that refining this technique will allow it to be used more routinely.2

Implications for MS patients

As someone who gets an MRI regularly, the idea that it could show me more about my disease progression is compelling. People living with multiple sclerosis are often caught in the grey area of the chronic illness. We know that there may be changes going on, but we do not know exactly what. We are warned that MRIs cannot tell us everything. Now, to know that there may be a better tool on the horizon gives hope to those of us desiring more information for ourselves and earlier detection for others.

Multiple sclerosis is a progressive chronic illness. Not knowing what will happen day-to-day can cause the kind of stress that should be avoided. Anything that can help alleviate stress and provide detailed data, can take some of the burden off of our shoulders. As the Vienna researchers refine the techniques, let's hope that this new tool becomes available in the very near future.

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