Early MRI scans can be used to predict physical and cognitive ability in later life in people with MS, study reveals

Early MRI scans can be used to predict the long-term prognosis of a patient with relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS), a study has revealed.

The finding forms part of new research published by the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.

The study, led by Dr Wallace Brownlee and Professor Olga Ciccarelli, looked through a range of MRI scans carried out when people were first diagnosed with the clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) – often the first physical symptom of MS.

The team then compared the images to the long-term outcomes of people with relapsing MS using the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS).

The analysis revealed a pattern of signs that could be used to predict the future progression of the disease.

Early spinal cord damage, for example, was an indicator that people were more likely to develop the secondary progressive form of MS.

The scientists said the images could also be used to predict the severity of disability a person was likely to face, as well as a person’s physical and cognitive abilities.

Commenting on the results, which have been published in the peer-reviewed journal Brain, Dr Brownlee said: “We already use MRI scans to diagnose MS and to monitor the course of the disease.

“These findings – which suggest existing measures, routinely available in clinical practice, can provide a long-term prognosis – are a major advance that will be welcomed by many in the MS community.

“MS can be relentless, painful, and disabling, but being able to predict how a person’s MS might progress will mean more certainty, better treatment choices, and hopefully better long term outcomes for everyone living with the condition.”

According to the latest statistics, an estimated 2.5 million people live with a form of MS worldwide, with around 90,500 of those based in the UK.