New MRI contrast agent allows early MS diagnosis in animal models

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Researchers from the University Hospitals of Heidelberg and Würzburg in Germany, have visualized inflammatory tissue damage with the aid of a new MRI contrast medium, gadofluorine M, in animal models with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to research published July 24 issue in Brain.

Until now, an early diagnosis is frequently not established with certainty, especially if no (or very few) inflammatory lesions are present on MRI.

“With this new contrast medium, we were able to visualize five to ten times more foci of inflammation in comparison to conventional MRI images and contrast media,” according to Martin Bendszus, MD, PhD, medical director of the department of neuroradiology at the University Hospital of Heidelberg.

Heidelberg and Würzburg neuroradiologists and neurologists examined brains and spinal cords of animals at different stages of the disease with the new contrast medium and found significantly more inflammatory lesions than with conventional contrast media. Examinations of tissue sections from the lesions showed that these were actually foci of inflammation, according to the investigators. 

The researchers found that the application of the new “contrast medium was clearly superior to conventional contrast media, especially for the spinal cord or optical nerve— nerve regions that are particularly difficult to examine on MRI.”

The study results could help dramatically improve the diagnostic work-up in MS with a potential impact on early treatment, the authors wrote. “New therapies have a positive influence on the course of the disease, but are often not initiated at early stages since the diagnosis of MS is not yet established,” Bendszus said.

The researchers said that the new contrast medium, gadofluorine M, visualizes MS lesions better because it binds especially well to certain components of the extracellular matrix of inflammatory foci, accumulating in these lesions in higher concentrations.

Bendszus and colleagues said that the next objective of the group is to further develop the new MRI contrast medium for application in clinical practice. As of now, the contrast medium is not yet approved, and additional preclinical tests are necessary for the planned clinical application.