Health & wellbeing

Dr. Marcus Sucksdorff's doctoral research at the field of neurology has revealed the potential of PET imaging in predicting the progression of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and assessing treatment response. This innovation could also serve as a biomarker in the development of drugs targeted at progressive MS in the future.

MS, an inflammatory autoimmune disease that degenerates the central nervous system, is the most common such condition among young adults.

It involves the destruction of the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells and the axons themselves, leading to severe neurological symptoms. Finland, with around 13,000 MS patients, often sees the disease progress over the years, accumulating symptoms regardless of relapse phases.

"To date, there is no effective medication for the progressive form of MS, which is particularly concerning given the average onset age of 20-40 years. MS remains one of the leading causes of disability and reduced functionality among the working-age population in Finland," explains Dr. Sucksdorff.

PET imaging, according to Sucksdorff's research, can provide critical insights into the disease's progression and the effectiveness of MS treatments. While MRI is a cornerstone in MS diagnosis and activity assessment, it often misses diffuse and widespread inflammation outside local lesions. This inflammation is marked by the activation of microglial cells, known to contribute to chronic neurodegeneration in several central nervous system diseases, including MS.

"Through PET imaging, which uses a small amount of radioactive tracer to measure metabolism and activity in targeted tissue, we can assess the activity of microglial cells. Until now, there has been limited research on how MS treatments affect brain microglia activity and how this correlates with potential disease progression," Sucksdorff adds.

His research found that MS therapies reduced microglial activity in critical brain areas over 6-12 months, suggesting that modulating microglia activity could slow nerve cell damage and disease progression. Furthermore, he discovered that higher microglial activity around brain lesions predicted future disease progression, regardless of relapse phases, over a four-year follow-up. These findings were based on a study of 69 MS patients and 18 healthy controls.

"This is the first study to demonstrate that activated microglial cells in the brain can predict the later progression of MS, highlighting the detrimental nature of this process. PET imaging of activated microglial cells is expected to significantly advance our understanding of MS's origins and development. In the future, it could also be used as a biomarker in developing treatments for progressive MS," concludes Sucksdorff.

Dr. Sucksdorff's research marks a significant advancement in MS diagnosis and treatment, offering hope for more effective management of this debilitating disease.