Kinesiology professor Richard van Emmerik and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently received a two-year $833,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to create an improved diagnostic test for multiple sclerosis (MS).
The scientists expects their research to help an estimated 2.3 million people worldwide who live with the disease, one million of whom have progressive MS.
“The goal of our test is to accurately track the progression of symptoms in patients and clearly diagnose them with either progressive or non-progressive MS,” Van Emmerik said in a news release.
The scientists’ premise is that no effective methods are currently available to treat and provide a timely diagnosis for the nearly half of MS patients for whom the disease steadily worsens. Their aim is to change this by developing a test that can accurately and precisely detect the most subtle changes in sensory and motor function.
The project will have two parts. In the first, researchers will develop new standardized measures for symptoms of progressive MS such as foot sensitivity, ability to sense movement, the position of joints in the lower body, limb coordination and overall ability to walk without help. In the second, researchers will track participants’ progress using the new measures.
Van Emmerik said he expects results to be available as soon as the two-year grant ends, with new methods to help patients with progressive MS receive treatment to be made available to clinicians and researchers right after that.
“We want to understand how sensation and motor function change in those with progressive MS by repeating these measurements every six months,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to develop a process that will detect small changes in patients so clinicians and researchers can develop effective, early treatments to slow disability progression in those with MS and maintain or improve their quality of life.”
The initiative is a partnership between UMass Medical Schools Department of Clinical Neurology and the department of kinesiology at the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.