Spinal Cord Gray Matter Degeneration Could Help Spot Multiple Sclerosis Earlier
Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: March 20, 2017
New research on the degeneration of spinal cord gray matter is helping medical experts identify multiple sclerosis earlier than ever before.
For their study, researchers examined 64 patients who had their first symptom of MS just one year prior. After studying the individuals who went on to develop progressive MS and relapsing MS, researchers noticed that they all exhibited spinal cord gray matter atrophy in the cervical portion of their spine compared to healthy individuals.
Spinal cord gray matter degeneration had already been identified in individuals with long-standing multiple sclerosis, but researchers were interested to see if gray matter atrophy was present at the earliest stages of the condition. They found that patients who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in it’s earliest stages showed atrophy of spinal gray matter compared to healthy individuals, but the same could not be said when analyzing white matter.
“I think it’s a very promising biomarker.” said lead author Dr. Regina Schlaeger. “This could be indicative that this is a process independent of inflammatory activities.”
Dr. Schlaeger added that the findings suggest that spinal cord gray matter atrophy can be detected inside the body “at the earliest stage of MS.” Her team hopes to conduct future studies to assess the rate of atrophy over time in order to determine if the biomarker can actually predict disability progression. If it can, gray matter monitoring will be able to give doctors and patients a better timeline on when certain symptoms may develop or how the disease will affect them in the coming years.
Examining the gray matter in the spinal cord could prove very helpful in our understanding of MS. Not only will it help doctors understand disease progression, but it will also open up new treatment avenues. Additionally, we may be able to track a patient’s gray matter in response to certain treatments to understand which treatments fend off gray matter degeneration and in turn slow the progression of the disease.
It’s too early to tell if tracking gray matter atrophy in the spinal cord will be a completely accurate biomarker to track, but it’s a jumping point. If it turns out to be fruitful, it could be very beneficial for multiple sclerosis patients and the doctors who treat them. We’ll certainly keep an eye on this research as it’s continued.