New research out of the UK has doubled the number of genes associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). Twenty-nine new genetic variants linked to MS have been identified by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
Researchers studied the DNA of 9,772 people with MS and 17,376 unrelated healthy controls. Many of the genes are relevant to the workings of the immune system, giving scientists new clues into how MS develops. One-third of the genes identified in the study are also associated with other autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s Disease.
Previous research has suggested a link between Vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of multiple sclerosis. In addition to the genes which play a direct role in the immune system, the researchers identified two that are involved in Vitamin D metabolism, providing more insight into a possible link between genetic and environmental risk factors.
“Identifying the basis for genetic susceptibility to any medical condition provides reliable insights into the disease mechanisms. Our research settles a longstanding debate on what happens first in the complex sequence of events that leads to disability in multiple sclerosis. It is now clear that multiple sclerosis is primarily an immunological disease. This has important implications for future treatment strategies,” said the study’s lead author, Alastair Compston from the University of Cambridge.
Peter Donnelly, who leads the charitable foundation, Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium, added: “Our findings highlight the value of large genetic studies in uncovering key biological mechanisms underlying common human diseases. This would simply not have been possible without a large international network of collaborators, and the participation of many thousands of patients suffering from this debilitating disease.”
Around the world, 2.5 million people have MS, one of the most common neurological conditions among young adults.
The study, published in the journal Nature, was the largest MS genetic study ever done, with almost 250 researchers contributing.
Source: University of Cambridge
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis.” She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo