July 15, 2003
By John O'Neil
The New York Times Company
Of the many mysteries surrounding multiple sclerosis, one of the most painful is what to expect after a diagnosis. Some people with similar brain scan findings will go years before having new bouts, while in others the disease progresses with daunting swiftness.
Now a new study, published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that tests for two kinds of antibodies can predict which group new patients fall into. The antibodies appear to reflect an immune system attack against proteins that help protect nerve tissue.
Researchers in Austria tested 103 new patients for the antibodies and then checked them every three months for signs of disease progression. They found that 95 percent of the patients with antibodies against both substances had symptoms or signs of progression within seven and a half months. Only 23 percent of the patients lacking both antibodies had symptoms, and on average they went almost four years before developing serious symptoms.
The researchers said that the test could offer a "rapid, inexpensive
and precise" way of determining which patients should consider intensive
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