A blood test that has been used to identify MS and other neurological diseases in adults can also work in children, reported an international research team. The blood test identifies a critical biomarker that can be present in elevated numbers even before symptoms have developed.
What Does the Blood Test Show?
Since last year, the adult method has been used on people over the age of 18 to monitor MS. Specifically, the test measures neurofilament light chain (NfL). This specific biomarker can reflect injury to nerve cells. A high NfL can mean ongoing injury to nerve cells from MS and other conditions, such as epilepsy and MOGAD, as well as from bacterial infections and traumatic brain injury.
After birth, the NfL level is high, most likely due to the lower blood volume during the first years of life. The number continues to drop until about the age of 10. In children without MS or other nerve-injury-causing conditions, NfL then remains stable.
How Can This Blood Test Prevent a Disability?
Children are now able to be treated with disease-modifying drugs (DMTs). This special class of drug can provide long-term stability of MS and other neurological conditions. Early intervention using these recently approved treatments can prevent symptoms and the eventual disability that comes from them.
Researchers are gathering data on NfL markers in children with and without neurological diseases. This data could help expand the approval of the biomarker test for children in the future.
While MRIs are expensive, this simple blood test is cost-effective. It will be more easily repeated as well. While parents may have to wait months in between MRIs to determine the status of MS or other neurological diseases, the NfL blood test will be able to be done frequently.
Even if a child does not have any symptoms, a high NfL could suggest treatment strategies, such as DMTs, need to be started to prevent future disability.