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Genetic 'map' provides key to new treatments.


SCIENTISTS have uncovered a genetic "map" that may lead to a plethora of new treatments for multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.

They hope the findings will provide a pathway to effective therapies not only for MS but related conditions such as Crohn's Disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and insulin-dependent or "Type 1" diabetes.

All are diseases in which cells are attacked by the body's own immune system.

In the case of MS, the fatty myelin sheath that protects and insulates nerve fibres is eroded away. As a result nerve messages become disrupted, giving rise to symptoms ranging from mild tingling and numbness to full blown paralysis.

An international team of scientists including British researchers identified 29 new genetic variants linked to MS, doubling the number previously known.

Many of the suspect genes play pivotal roles in the workings of the immune system, in particular the functions of T-cells. These are specialised white blood cells that attack and destroy foreign invaders or marshal other elements of the body's defences against them.

The genes also influence the activation of immune system signalling molecules called interleukins.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

A second study published in the online journal Public Library of Science Genetics (PLoS Genetics) pointed to common genetic links between multiple autoimmune diseases including MS.

Dr Chris Cotsapas, one of the lead authors from the Yale School of Medicine in the US, said: "We have known for some time that many devastating diseases of the immune system must have common genetic causes. Now we have the outline of a map that tells us where we can look for common treatments."

MS affects around 100,000 people in the UK and 2.5 million worldwide, making it one of the most common neurological conditions among young adults.

The multi-population Nature study compared DNA from 9,772 MS patients with that from 17,376 unrelated healthy individuals.

A third of the MS genes identified had previously been implicated in other autoimmune diseases including Crohn's and Type 1 diabetes.

The PLoS paper found new connections between known genetic variants and autoimmune diseases. Of 107 variants previously linked to one of the disorders, nearly half appeared to play a role in at least one other.

Leading British author Professor Alastair Compston, from Cambridge University, cofounder of the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium, said: "Identifying the basis for genetic susceptibility to any medical condition provides reliable insights into the disease mechanisms.

"Our research settles a long-standing debate on what happens first in the complex sequence of events that leads to disability in multiple sclerosis."

Colleague Professor Peter Donnelly, from Oxford University, said: "Our findings highlight the value of large genetic studies in uncovering key biological mechanisms underlying common human diseases."

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, said: "By identifying which genes may trigger the development of MS, we can identify potential 'risk factors' and look at new ways of treating, or even preventing, the condition in the future. The MS Society is delighted to have helped fund this groundbreaking research."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 11, 2011
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