Precision Medicine Research for MS

Precision Medicine Research for MS

At the Precision Medicine Center of Excellence for Multiple Sclerosis, our physicians and basic scientists combine laboratory studies and clinical observations to discover new knowledge and advance the care of people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Our MS experts have a history of pioneering innovative treatments for patients. Today, they are exploring how precision medicine can provide patients with a more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. Find out more about multiple sclerosis research at Johns Hopkins.

Our precision medicine research focuses include:

Understanding how an individual's genetic makeup affects treatment decisions

One example is the discovery of a genetic variation in some people with MS that appears to be a marker for establishing risk for more serious forms of the disease. Additional markers are likely to be discovered and to expand personalized medicine strategies that tailor care.

dna sequencing

Using metabolomics to identify how well some will respond to treatments

A metabolomics test uses special technology to examine small chemical molecules in the blood (metabolites) that are present when other chemicals break down. We use this information to identify substances (biomarkers) that may help predict how you will respond to certain drug treatments. Just as drugs are being developed that target particular proteins on an individual's cancer cells, drugs can be developed that exploit an individual's metabolome and slow or stop the decline in brain cell activities that characterize MS.

Non-drug therapies

Johns Hopkins investigators are exploring new non-drug treatment options that may in some cases be as effective as medications, but which have fewer side effects. Our research in non-drug therapies includes:

  • Vitamin D: Research has suggested that taking higher than normal doses of vitamin D can help regulate an overactive immune response in some people with MS. We are learning how doing so may help you avoid acute MS flareups that make symptoms worse, sometimes for long periods of time. Find out more: Taking Vitamin D May Benefit People with Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Calorie-restricted diets: Clinical trials currently are underway to better understand the science behind the apparent impact of low-calorie diets on immune system functioning in MS patients. Preliminary studies suggest that consuming just 500 calories — the equivalent of one small meal — two days a week may help the body eliminate damaged cells and generate healthy new cells.

Advanced imaging tests to help diagnose and treat multiple sclerosis 

Advanced imaging techniques provide ways to catch the earliest signs of more advanced forms of MS. Innovative uses of imaging also hold promise for measuring treatment effectiveness, as well.

Highlights of our research in advanced imaging includes:

  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT): OCT is a simple test that uses light waves to examine nerve endings in the back of the eye (retina). Our goal is to catch patients at risk for life-altering complications and deliver treatments early to prevent these complications from happening. Read more about OCT: a precision medicine technique.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): We are using MRI to measure abnormalities in brain tissue (lesions) in a way that will tell us which treatments are working and which are not. Working alongside Johns Hopkins bioengineering experts, our MS experts are developing tools and methods to compare the size of lesions before and after treatment with a level of precision not available with standard imaging methods. The work has the potential to guide treatment decisions that will lead to more responsive, effective care.
OCT is a sensitive and easy method to measure the health of nerve fibers in the back of the eye

Repairing damaged nerve cells

As people living with multiple sclerosis likely know, the condition is marked by damage to the protective layer surrounding nerve cells, called myelin. This degeneration leads to scarring, or sclerosis. These scars (or lesions) prevent nerve cells from transmitting signals properly.

One key area of research we are pursuing is the search for ways to repair and restore myelin. We are studying cells in the brain and spinal cord that give rise to the ones that make myelin. Our team hopes to identify ways to turn on the myelin production processes. We have found that thyroid hormones are critical for this process. We have also identified that introducing forms of these hormones to the brain may somehow prompt myelin repair. One form, called T3, is being tested in clinical trials.

We have also found that several drugs that are FDA-approved for treating other conditions can drive cells growing in culture (a petri dish with a growth medium) to make myelin. We hope to find that this will hold true for brain and spinal cord cells in animal models and humans. 

Clinical Trials

A Pragmatic Trial of Dietary Programs in People With Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Principal Investigator: Mowry
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02846558
The Use of Technology to Improve MS Clinical Trials and Patient Care
Principal Investigator: Mowry
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier:NCT02454907
A Study of Ocrelizumab in Participants With Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) Who Have Had a Suboptimal Response to an Adequate Course of Disease-Modifying Treatment (DMT)
Principal Investigator: Newsome
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier:NCT02637856
Request an Appointment

Maryland patients:410-614-1522.

U.S. patients outside of Maryland: 855-695-4872 or use our secure online form.

International patients:
+1-410-502-7683 or use our secure online form.

Request an Appointment

Maryland patients: 410-614-1522.

U.S. patients outside of Maryland: 855-695-4872 or use our secure online form.

International patients:
+1-410-502-7683 or use our secure online form.