New MRI technique promises better diagnostics for MS

MS is an insidious disease that afflicts 1 in 700 people in America with short-term memory loss, gradual loss of motor control and/or other neurological damage. Statistics for MS are high: 250,000 to 500,000 cases in the US (Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, NIH, 2004), and the most common type is the relapsing/remitting form. Its early stages are characterized by alternating damage and then spontaneous repair to the myelin sheath surrounding and insulating nerve fibers–which until now doctors were unable to detect until much later. Eventually the spontaneous repairing stops.

Now a relatively recent MRI advance called magnetization transfer “makes damaged tissue stand out more clearly against the backdrop of normal brain tissue.” They hope that this will eventually mean they can better evaluate treatments in clinical trials–to tell whether people might improve by reading the brain tissue.

Medical device researchers back in the lab studying how MRI works knows they’re working to improve diagnostics. But it’s got to be really gratifying to hear how those discoveries are being put to use to give people that most precious gift–hope.