Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a characterized by progressive loss of coordination and balance leading to loss of ambulation (LoA) in nearly all affected individuals. While transition to becoming fully wheelchair bound is a critical milestone in the disease course, it presents a particularly challenging prediction, mostly due to variability in inter- and intra-subject severity and progression. For these reasons, LoA or potential surrogates have been impractical as outcomes in clinical trials. The authors studied progressive features leading to LoA in participants enrolled into the Friedreich's Ataxia Clinical Outcome Measures Study (FA-COMS), a natural history study with currently 4606 yearly follow up visits in 1021 patients. Loss of specific functions related to walking and standing of the neurological Friedreich Ataxia Rating Scale (FARS) exams were evaluated using time to event methods. To account for different severities, patients were stratified by age of disease onset. Early onset FRDA patients (<15y of age) typically become fully wheelchair dependent at a median of 11.5y (25th, 75th percentiles 8.6y, 16.2y) after the onset of first symptoms. Further time to loss of function analyses revealed a unique pattern of function loss, in particular in stance/balance items of the FARS exam. Each step in this typical sequence predicts future risk of LoA and can be used to rank patients in their individual progression. The study proposes a stratification paradigm for time to LoA in FRDA. Concurrently, each step in a sequence of events represents a surrogate measure for future LoA. This will facilitate patient selection and stratification in clinical trials, and potentially enable study of LoA as a direct clinical outcome.
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