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Dr Yuyi You, Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW

Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and multiple sclerosis (MS) are autoimmune conditions that cause a loss of myelin, the insulating layer around nerves. In both diseases the visual system and the optic nerve are often affected.

“Differentiating these conditions is critical because prognosis and treatments are very different. There are a considerable number of patients still being misdiagnosed with MS and it is not uncommon that the correct diagnosis of NMO is only made after symptoms worsen with MS disease modifying treatments,” explained Dr You.

Dr You and colleagues will use imaging techniques to work out ways to differentiate between the two conditions by investigating whether they have different patterns of optic nerve damage.

At present the key method of identify which condition patients have is the disease-specific serum immunoglobulin IgG targeting the astrocyte water channel aquaporin-4 (AQP4). The researchers also plan to investigate whether the level of antibodies is linked to the severity of optic nerve damage.

This study will provide clinical guidance for disease differentiation of these two conditions – the leading causes of optic neuritis in neuro-ophthalmology practice. This research will also clarify the mechanisms of optic nerve damage in these neuro-inflammatory disorders.