Zurich – Researchers at the University of Zurich have identified a cell population that likely plays a key role in multiple sclerosis. This discovery opens up new avenues for monitoring and potentially treating the autoimmune disease.

In multiple sclerosis (MS), “dysregulated” immune cells periodically infiltrate the brain of afflicted patients, the University of Zurich (UZH) explained in a press release. They damage the synapses between nerve cells and cause cell loss in the central nervous system (CNS). An international team led by Burkhard Becher at the Institute of Experimental Immunology of the UZH has now identified the “fingerprint” of these immune cells. Burkhard Becher: “We identified a specific population of white blood cells augmented in the peripheral blood of MS patients that have two properties characteristic of MS: they can move from the blood to the central nervous system and there they can cause inflammation of the nerve cells.”

The Zurich researchers have used artificial intelligence “to analyze millions of cells in hundreds of patients”. They developed an innovative machine-learning algorithm for this analysis. An interdisciplinary team of medical doctors, biologists and computational scientists has identified “a population of immune cells in the peripheral blood of MS patients that differ from those in other inflammatory and non-inflammatory disease”.

According to Becher, it is still too soon to “claim a disease-causing role for this population” of MS cells. Further studies will be conducted to confirm this hypothesis, which could lead to new treatments in future. This latest discovery already brings important value for monitoring of the disease. “We believe that the identification of such an easily accessible biomarker brings important value for MS monitoring,” says Becher.

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