New research will help assess the course and treatment of MS Could the health of the optic nerve - that small bundle of fibers that carries visual messages from the eye to the brain - indicate how a person with MS is doing overall?
A generous donation to the Chapter from Janet Levy Pauli and Bill Pauli is being used towards the purchase the OCT equipment that will make the Seattle research possible. OCT, which has been used for other eye conditions for several years, is a simple and painless test that shines an infrared light into the patient’s eye, creating a picture of the surface of the back of the eye and measuring the thickness of the optic nerve. Optic neuritis or inflammation of the optic nerve is a common and early indicator of MS. Up to 80 percent of people with relapsing remitting MS have had optic neuritis, and it’s the first symptom in 20 to 50 percent of those diagnosed with the disease. OCT, therefore, could be an easy way of determining how someone with MS is doing and responding to treatment, Dr. May says.
Unlike other less sensitive tests, OCT can detect the loss of axons, or the thread-like extensions from nerve cells that transmit impulses. This is significant, Dr. May explains, because axon loss, not myelin damage, is what causes MS to progress.
OCT has already led to a few discoveries, including:
“The optic nerve technically is a part of the brain,” Dr. May says. “So this test may indicate the health of their brain.” Right now, it can be very difficult to determine how a patient is faring or responding to treatment because the disease is so variable, he says.
Research already has shown that drugs for MS can change the course of the disease. In the last 15 to 20 years, he says, “we’ve found that early treatment with these medications may very well have a profound effect on the long-term outcome of people with MS.”