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Blood test to predict MS developed

Scientists have developed a blood test that appears to be the first reliable way to predict whether patients with neurological problems such as tingling or blurred vision will soon develop the debilitating disease multiple sclerosis.

Austrian researchers studying patients with possible MS symptoms found those with two kinds of antibodies in their blood early on were 76 times more likely to develop the tough-to-diagnose disorder than those with neither antibody.

Up to now, "nobody was able to predict for an individual patient what will be in the future," said lead researcher Dr. Thomas Berger of the department of neurology at University of Innsbruck.

MS is incurable, but Berger said the blood test could help doctors decide whether to offer a patient early treatment with drugs recently proven to reduce flare-ups and slow the progression of the disease, which affects the central nervous system.

The best current diagnostic test, an MRI scan for lesions on nerves in the brain and spinal cord, can only predict the chances of developing multiple sclerosis over the next decade, and its accuracy ranges from 11 to 80 percent, Berger said. The blood test is 95 percent accurate in predicting which people will have a flare-up within several months, he said.

About 400,000 Americans, mostly women, have multiple sclerosis.

Fraternal twins found

to have shared placenta

Contradicting nearly all medical textbooks, doctors have proven fraternal, or nonidentical, twins can share a placenta.

Doctors had believed only identical twins _ which come from a single, split embryo _ can share a placenta, the mass of tissue inside the uterus that delivers nourishment to the fetus via the umbilical cord.

In today's New England Journal of Medicine, doctors at the University of Washington in Seattle reported a 48-year-old woman gave birth about two years ago to male and female twins nourished by the same placenta. Each baby had an umbilical cord and amniotic sac.

"I think there are other cases out there" that were missed, said lead author Dr. Vivienne L. Souter. But "I think it's very rare."

EU proposes guidelines

for stem cell research

BRUSSELS, Belgium _ The European Union head office proposed guidelines Wednesday for funding research on embryonic stem cells, setting the stage for a showdown with countries that oppose such work on moral grounds.

The proposal would allow researchers to spend EU money to harvest stem cells from frozen human embryos, a practice illegal in Germany, Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland and Spain and blocked elsewhere. The European Union would not fund human embryonic stem cell research in a country where it is forbidden, but some members don't want their tax money to pay for the projects.

Elsewhere . . .

FDA APPROVES WEST NILE TEST: The Food and Drug Administration has approved a diagnostic kit that sharply reduces the time needed to test patients for West Nile virus.

The current West Nile test takes about two days and it can take up to two weeks to get results because of the large number of people tested. The new test, developed by the Australian medical diagnostics company PANBIO, takes hours and results are available the same day, said Carl Stubbings, the company's senior vice president of U.S. operations.

TORONTO'S SARS ALERT LIFTED: Federal officials have lifted a SARS-related travel alert for Toronto. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 30 days had elapsed since the last SARS case in the Canadian city developed symptoms.

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