Breakthrough in solving MS mystery
A MAJOR international study has identified 57 genes associated with the development of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Analysis of DNA samples provided by more than 9500 people with MS found the patients had subtle, inherited differences in their immune function compared to healthy individuals.
The study was one of the largest human genetic studies ever undertaken, involving more than 250 researchers from 15 countries including Australia.
More than 1000 Australians with MS provided DNA samples which were analysed by a consortium of Australian and New Zealand scientists involved in the study.
Until now, scientists were aware of only four genes linked to MS and have suggested that a lack of vitamin D could be one of the possible environmental factors.
Clinical immunologist Professor Graeme Stewart, who led the Australian and New Zealand team, said the discovery of another 53 genes put scientists in a stronger position to pinpoint the causes of MS and develop drugs targeting the immune system.
"When you get so many [genes] discovered, you can look for patterns, and the pattern is one that influences the immune function," he said.
"In finding so many genes, we have found that many overlap with other autoimmune diseases including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease.
"So what is clear and emerging is that there are some genes that predispose some people to one autoimmune disease or another."
Professor Stewart, who works at the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research in Sydney, said scientists would now focus on working out the function of the 57 MS genes and why minor variations in them could predispose people to the disease.
"No-one knows how long it will take before we have a cure for MS but I do know that day will come sooner as a result of this study," Professor Stewart said.