2017 is the Year of the MS Biomarker

Last updated: March 2017

Finally, here is some news that everyone who has had a lumbar puncture can cheer about!
From February 21st-24th I attended the annual ACTRIMS meeting along side fellow MS advocates, colleagues, and some of the most brilliant minds in the world of MS. During the meeting I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Chase Spurlock, the CEO of IQuity to discuss the development of a biomarker for MS. They are on the verge of releasing a blood test that can screen for MS with an incredible 90% accuracy rate.

Current screening

As of now most people are initially screened for MS with MRIs of the brain and spinal cord. Neurologists then will then often turn to lumbar punctures and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis to confirm the diagnosis. As many of you know first hand, lumbar punctures are expensive and invasive procedures that involve inserting a large needle into the spinal cord and removing a sample of CSF for analysis. This procedure can be painful, and afterwards some people experience a severe spinal headache that can last for hours, or even days. These headaches can occur if the lumbar puncture site doesn’t heal well and CSF continues to leak out of the spinal cord. If this happens another procedure, called a blood patch, is often needed to stop the leak before the headache will improve. CSF tests, such as the IgG index and measurement of oligoclonal bands, are about 80% accurate. This means that many people may still have MS even if their CSF shows no signs of it. Needless to say, that’s a lot of discomfort to endure when the procedure may not even help confirm a diagnosis!

New diagnostic technology

Thankfully, IQuity has been working diligently to change the way we make an MS diagnosis. They are a specialty diagnostic technology company based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Spurlock and his team have been looking for ways to pick up autoimmune diseases with blood tests, and in the next few months will be offering a test that can confirm an MS diagnosis with a single blood draw. They have been looking at long non-coding RNS gene sequences that are unique to people with MS, which is something we currently cannot do. This is a game changer in the world of MS, where often we make a diagnosis by ruling out every other possible cause for symptoms, and eventually land on a MS diagnosis by default. It could also be a powerful tool for people with atypical MS presentations, since often the diagnosis is difficult to make.

For people who are interested in the test, IQuity will ship a kit directly to a patient or their provider. They will then have their blood drawn, and sent back to the IQuity lab in Tennessee. The blood samples are processed through their lab, and the results typically only take 7 days to come back. Of note, the test will not be available in NY, CA, or FL yet as these states have stricter regulation. Additionally, as with most new tests, medications, and medical devices, it will likely not be covered by insurance for at least the next 6-12 months. IQuity is offering a discount for people who want the test before then, as long as they are willing to consent to having their blood sample stored for use in future research and give additional samples in the future if needed. I for one completely support this, because Dr. Spurlock’s team will be using the blood samples they collect for several exciting endeavors. Down the line they plan to develop tests that can tell people with MS if they have relapsing-remitting or progressive disease, if they are going through a relapse or just a pseudoexacerbation, and even one that shows if a disease modifying therapy is working to control MS activity.

It is great to see so many exciting developments in the MS world, and I can’t wait to put their research to use!

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