Researchers have made an exciting breakthrough – developing a first-of-its-kind imaging tool to examine myelin damage in multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an extremely difficult disease to diagnose, and the new tool is expected to help physicians diagnose patients earlier, monitor the disease’s progression, and evaluate therapy efficacy. Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine scientists have developed a novel molecular probe detectable by positron emission tomography (PET) imaging. The new molecular marker, MeDAS, offers the first non-invasive visualization of myelin integrity of the entire spinal cord at the same time, as reported online on September 23, 2013 in the Annals of Neurology. “While MS originates in the immune system, the damage occurs to the myelin structure of the central nervous system. Our discovery brings new hope to clinicians who may be able to make an accurate diagnosis and prognosis in as little as a few hours compared to months or even years,” said Yanming Wang, Ph.D., senior author of the study and associate professor of radiology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “Because of its shape and size, it is particularly difficult to directly detect myelin damage in the spinal cord; this is the first time we have been able to image its function at the molecular level.” As the most common acquired autoimmune disease currently affecting more than two million people worldwide, MS is characterized by destruction of myelin, the membrane that protects nerves (see image). Once damaged, the defective myelin inhibits the nerves’ ability to transmit electrical impulses, causing cognitive impairment and mobility dysfunction. So far, there is no cure for MS; therapies are only available that modify the symptoms.
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