Ancestry information, products for gut health, paternity tests.

One can pretty much mail order anything these days.

There are even companies that will analyze your blood without a doctor’s order. They provide blood chemistry and wellness tests based on the results. 

How long before a blood sample can provide information on what type of multiple sclerosis (MS) someone has, and also how to best treat it? 

Not long if clinical studies continue to show positive results with biomarkers and the potential benefits for people with MS.

Read more: Early signs of multiple sclerosis »

Deciphering ‘snowflakes’

Biomarkers are genomic, metabolic, or lipidomic. They are used with blood tests, DNA/RNA sequences, and lipid analyses.

Recent research has shown biomarkers can be used to define MS in people, pinpoint the type of MS someone has, and provide possible hints to treatment and progression.

Biomarkers are not new.

The lumbar puncture that many people with MS receive will show a level of certain proteins, which can signal the presence of MS and help with diagnosis. But it is not enough.

MS is as unique as a snowflake. No two cases are the same, making diagnosis and treatment challenging.

If doctors could easily identify the illness, define the type of MS one has, and customize the treatment accordingly, then the patient’s chance of a healthier life is significantly higher.

In addition, people with MS could save money while fighting progression with the best medicine for their unique situation.

Read more: The effects of coffee and alcohol on multiple sclerosis »

Research unveiled

Many of these studies were presented and discussed at the 32nd Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS), which took place earlier this month in London.

The research shows biomarkers play a large role in identifying the disease, managing the progression, and finding the best medical options for someone with MS.

This could mean no more guessing. No more trial and error. Just a few blood tests and the patient and doctor would have answers before beginning treatment.

One biomarker, miR-150, was found to identify patients with MS when compared with people who have other neurologic conditions.

There is no one diagnostic test for MS and presenting symptoms can often be confused with other illnesses such as Lyme disease or lupus. This study provides Class II evidence that CSF miR-150 distinguishes patients with MS from patients with other neurologic conditions.

Now that miR-150 has been proven to be a biomarker of inflammatory active disease it shows the potential to be used for early diagnosis of MS.

Because MS can be difficult to diagnose and measure, patients may undergo years of unnecessary treatments. Additionally, current treatments for MS vary significantly in their effectiveness on individuals, making it critical to find biomarkers that measure the progression of the disease.

Read more: Imaging test might identify biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease »

Personalizing treatments

As a result, the biomarkers are also proving their success in creating personalized treatments. 

But some people with MS acquire antibodies from certain medications.  And sometimes these antibodies lead to death.

Patients can develop neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) while taking a medicine. It can take months or years to develop them, and during this time the patient’s illness may continue to progress. NAbs occur when the body sees the treatment as foreign and launches an attack on the immune system. The antibody attaches to the drug, inhibiting the medicine’s efficacy.

Folks who become NAb-positive can start to show more disease activity resulting in increased lesions. They also encounter increased medical expenses due to complications.

Patients using interferon have a 45 percent chance of developing these neutralizing antibodies. Interferon is used in many disease-modifying drugs for MS. While some people respond, many others do not, and may spend years on a treatment that is not helping them.

In 2016, Biogen reported 10 more infections and four more deaths with Tysabri (natalizumab) because of NAbs developing. These people then developed progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a rare and usually fatal condition. Research continues to home in on the biomarker that prevents this from happening.

Biomarkers are also being used to judge the efficacy of fingolimod treatments to measure the progression of patients who switch from one drug therapy to another.

In the past two decades, studies have tried to identify biomarkers that enable better treatment of multiple sclerosis and help improve the quality of life for thousands of people with MS.

With disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) running some $5,000 to $6,000 a month, treatment for someone with MS can cost upward of $62,000 year without insurance, in a market predicted to reach $20 billion by 2024.

With all that, biomarkers could truly help the future of MS treatment.