Compounding the already difficult diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) is the onslaught of invasive, often painful, tests to identify and track disease progression—typically requiring the collection of fluid from the brain and spine. However, now, investigators at the University of Huddersfield, U.K., have just developed a minimally invasive method for quickly detecting signs of MS. Findings from the new study—published today in Analytical Methods in an article entitled “Sphingosine and Dihydrosphingosine As Biomarkers for Multiple Sclerosis Identified by Metabolomic Profiling Using Coupled UPLC-MS”—used advanced mass spectrometry techniques and may provide clinicians with a diagnostic tool that enables the detection of MS to be made simply using blood samples.

In the current study, the research team looked at two cell membrane lipids that have been previously linked to MS—sphingosine, and dihydrosphingosine—and found them to be at significantly lower concentrations in blood samples from MS patients.

“Sphingosine and dihydrosphingosine have been previously found to be at lower concentrations in the brain tissue of patients with multiple sclerosis,” the authors wrote. “The detection of these sphingolipids in blood plasma allows the non-invasive monitoring of these and related compounds.”

In addition to being offered as a diagnostic tool to identify MS, the University of Huddersfield researchers are optimistic that their discovery will aid in the investigation of the role of the compounds in the disease and assist potential new drug development.

Lead study investigator Sean Ward, a doctoral student the University of Huddersfield's Innovative Physical Organic Solutions IPOS) unit explored the analytical potential of chemometric software, in particular, the package named Mass Profiler Professional (MPP)

“Mass spectrometry data is very complex, and there can be thousands of compounds in each sample,” Ward remarked. “MPP allows the abundance of each of those compounds to be compared between the samples and can find discrete differences.”

An additional dimension to the research was an analysis of plasma samples from patients with neuropathic pain (NP), some of whom also had MS. Also tested was serum from MS patients with no NP. The metabolomic profiles for each disease state were identified, and there are clear indications that the three groups share similar biomechanical mechanisms.

The study authors wrote that “metabolomic profiling was performed using ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry and the data analysis involved parametric methods, principal component analysis, and discriminating filter analysis to determine the differences between disease and control serum samples.”

The researchers concluded their analysis stating that “sphingosine and dihydrosphingosine were identified as significant biomarkers.”

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