Study Into South Asian MS Planned

A report on the launch of a new study into multiple sclerosis, specifically looking at MS in the South Asian community.

Seven years ago, South Asians diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis thought they were alone in their community. Today, about 12 per cent of the MS patients treated at London’s Charing Cross Hospital are of a South Asian background.

South Asians born in the UK seem to be more susceptible to Multiple Sclerosis than those who migrated to this country as adults. Now Dr Omar Malik, a consultant neurologist at Imperial College NHS Healthcare Trust, wants to know why. He says South Asian MS is now becoming common in the UK, but the reasons for this have not yet been studied.

So he and colleagues at St James’s Hospital, Leeds, Luke’s Hospital in Bradford and Leicester Royal Infirmary are recruiting 200 South Asians with MS to analyse their DNA.

Hopes are high that the study will not only result in a greater understanding of the role of genes but may eventually lead to new therapies and even preventative treatment.

Dr Malik explained that, as well as studying the genes, the researchers would be looking into the role of Vitamin D deficiency and the Epstein-Barr virus, which may increase the risk of developing MS.

He said:

“While genes in European and migrant European populations have been studied extensively, South Asian MS has received very little attention.

“The ‘speculation’ is that in Caucasians genes contribute approximately 40 per cent to the risk of MS and that 60 per cent is environmental.

“We assume that South Asians may have an ‘intrinsically’ higher genetic risk but this is not exposed until the environmental factor is available.”

He added that exposure to certain environmental factors in the early years of life – up to the age of 12 – were likely to play a particularly important role in determining risk.

Dr Doug Brown, research manager at the MS Society, said:

“We are hoping that this study, which is part of the MS Society’s innovative grant award scheme, will give researchers a better idea of how genes might play a role in MS susceptibility, with the eventual goal of opening up new avenues of research into the subject.”

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