Accessible NfL Blood Test Developed for Neurodegenerative Conditions

NfL test may help doctors see therapy effectiveness, disease progression

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by Vanda Pinto, PhD |

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Labcorp has launched a widely accessible test that measures the levels of neurofilament light chain (NfL), a biomarker of nerve damage, to screen for signs of neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

The test is performed on a standard blood sample taken at a hospital, at the doctor’s office, or at any of Labcorp’s patient service centers. It can now be ordered by healthcare providers in the U.S.

“NfL is a simple, objective blood test that provides direct evidence of neuronal damage. In making this test widely available, Labcorp is supporting neurologists with a tool they’ve been asking for that enables faster diagnoses, better treatment decisions and improved patient care,” Brian Caveney, MD, chief medical officer and president of Labcorp Diagnostics, said in a company press release.

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“It’s a major step forward in the monitoring and identification of patients with neuronal injury due to disease or trauma,” Caveney said.

MS is an neurodegenerative disorder in which the immune system erroneously attacks the myelin sheath that covers and protects nerve fibers, leading to progressive nerve damage.

Currently, there is no single test to diagnose MS and effective markers that help monitor disease progression and treatment effectiveness are also lacking.

NfL is a structural protein in nerve cells that gets released into the extracellular fluid when the cells are damaged. The protein can be detected in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid — the liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord — at higher levels than normal in people with neurodegenerative conditions.

Measurements of NfL levels also seem to reflect the extent of nerve cell damage in MS. In a previous study, researchers showed a positive association between NfL levels and MRI measures of disease activity and treatment response. A correlation between NfL levels and the number of MS relapses, disability worsening, brain volume loss, and disease activity have also been described in other studies.

Yet, according to Labcorp, a reliable NfL test has not been widely available for patient care.

“This test will be impactful in helping many patients,” Joseph Volpe, neurology business segment and discipline director at Labcorp, said. “Serial use of NfL testing can help doctors to follow trends that indicate the effectiveness of medicines or therapies, or whether there is continued injury or disease progression.”

Factors such as sex and age, lifestyle, and presence of coexisting diseases may influence blood NfL levels. Therefore, the company advises caution when interpreting the results.

This assay has not yet been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is not currently available in New York.

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