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    You are here : Home » MS Research News » MS Knowledge » Possible Causes

    Possible Causes

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    Researchers to shine spotlight on MS causes
    MS ResearchThe Federal Australian Government has awarded north Queensland's James Cook University (JCU) $180,000 over the next three years to identify the leading causes of multiple sclerosis (MS).

    Researchers hope to understand how a breakdown of the immune system can leads to the disease.

    Professor Alan Baxter says his team of researchers is also studying how environmental factors can contribute to the disease.

    "It would appear that what's causing that is the exposure to sun or the ability of exposure to sun to generate vitamin D," he said.

    "In places where there's little sun exposure there's low levels of vitamin D resulting in high levels of MS and in places like Townsville where there's high levels of exposure there's very little MS."

    Professor Baxter says initial research suggests a breakdown in the immune system can lead to MS.

    "The difference that we're seeing in our preliminary data is that it's really quite stark and it suggests that within a couple of years we should have a much better idea of what's going wrong with the immune system in MS and then on the basis of that, we could plan future therapies," he said.

    Source: ABC News © 2010 ABC (01/11/10)

    Association of a history of varicella virus infection with multiple sclerosis
    Herpes Zoster Virus

    Abstract

    Objective
    To analyze the association of a previous history of varicella virus infection with multiple sclerosis (MS) and its subtypes.

    Material and methods
    We performed a case–control study including 126 cases and 157 controls. Subjects were divided into subgroups according to MS subtype and the history of varicella virus infection along with other variables was assessed.

    Results
    History of varicella zoster virus (VZV) infection was positive in 42% of controls and 66% of MS cases (p ≤ 0.001). Patients with a history of VZV infection had a threefold risk increase of having MS. Regarding MS subtypes, relapsing-remitting (RR) MS had four times the risk and secondary progressive had a threefold increase in risk when compared with control patients.

    Conclusions
    An association between varicella infection history and MS was found, particularly in the RR subtype.

    Mayela Rodríguez-Violantea, Graciela Ordoñezb, Jesus Ramirez Bermudezc, Julio Sotelob and Teresa Coronaa

    aNeurodegenerative Diseases Clinical Research Unit, National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Mexico City, Mexico bNeuroimmunology Unit, National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Mexico City, Mexico cDepartment of Neuropsychiatry, National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Mexico City, Mexico

    Source: Science Direct  © 2008 Elsevier B.V. (03/11/08)

    Do phone masts make MS worse?

    A Midlands woman believes her MS has been made worse by living near a mobile phone mast.

    Mrs Nancy Watts, who lives ten metres from a base station in Market Drayton, Shropshire, noticed her multiple sclerosis deteriorate from one relapse every three years to three every year since returning from Hong Kong in 1996.

    Former business consultant Mrs Watts is coordinating a pilot study of 600 people which will include a control group so the data can be interpreted in context.

    As well as including a control group and people who do not live near a mast, her survey has been painstakingly designed to stand up to scientific scrutiny and will harness the skills of an epidemiologist.

    "We want to make as robust a study so that it cannot be picked apart and afterwards carry it out in multiple areas across the country so we have as much information as possible", she said.

    Results of the pilot study are expected published in April 2004.

    Dr Gerard Hyland, former senior lecturer of theoretical physics at Warwick University, said long-term exposure to low level radiation could affect autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.

    Source: Birmingham Post(03/08/03)

    Risk Factors for MS - Short breastfeeding, chickenpox and childhood eczema.
    A Mexican study has found that three factors were highly significant for getting MS - breastfeeding for less than eight months, chickenpox (varicella virus) and childhood eczema. 88 per cent of MS patients had at least one of the significant variables, 56 per cent had at least two, and 18 per cent had all three.

    These three factors are all more frequent in industrialized countries, where they generally occur during childhood. Multiple sclerosis has been increasing in Mexico in real terms since the 1980s and is more prevalent in higher socio-economic classes than the general population.

    Cases longer than 15 years are rare. The study authors note that the time when many of the MS patients were born coincides with a sharp decline in the length of breastfeeding. They speculate that an immunological handicap produced by an insufficient period of breastfeeding may increase a child's susceptibility to immune imbalance or slow viral infection, which is associated with MS later on.

    Source:  'Varicella, ephemeral breastfeeding and eczema as risk factors for multiple sclerosis in Mexicans.' R. Tarrats, G. Ordonez, C.Rios and J. Sotelo Acta Neurol Scand 2002:105:88-94.

    MS Research Wrong
    Scientists have failed to find a cure for multiple sclerosis because they have been investigating ‘the wrong disease’ for more than a century, a controversial study has concluded.

    Neurologists at Glasgow University claim conventional wisdom about MS is based on a different condition altogether. The conventional line is that MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the myelin sheath in the central nervous system.

    However, three neuroscientists, including Professor Peter Behan, a well-known MS sceptic, say this is wrong. They claim MS is caused by malfunctioning of the astrocytes, which are support cells in the central nervous system. This is possibly due to genetic and environmental triggers.

    The researchers say that animal experiments in the late 19th century which underpin the accepted autoimmune theory were critically flawed. They claim the scientists involved had wrongly believed they had induced an "animal model" of multiple sclerosis, when the two conditions were actually very different. Prof Behan said: "There are huge differences and they’ve been skipped over."

    He said the so-called animal version of MS either kills or permanently disables animals, while MS "comes and goes" and there are also big differences in the level of inflammation. Despite this, almost all MS treatments have been based on the animal version. Dr Behan said: "Not a single human has been cured using these approaches."

    Some doctors have backed the claims but others are vehemently opposed. Dr Israel Steiner, a neurologist at the Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, said the animal model had blocked effective progress for decades. He said: "I definitely believe it’s high time to reconsider the entire field. It has not led us into understanding the disease or to a better therapy for patients."

    However, other scientists dismissed the research. Dr Stephen Reingold, the vice-president of research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in New York, said: "It’s presented as a comprehensive review but is highly selective."

    He admitted that none of the available treatments for MS provided cures, but said some provided relative benefits.

    Dr Charles Poser, of Harvard Medical School, in Boston, said the study failed to acknowledge the exact match between the damage in people with MS and that in marmoset monkeys with the animal version.

    Souce: Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 2002. New Scientist

    Smoked Sausages A Risk For MS
    Eating smoked sausages in childhood seems to be linked to an increased risk of developing MS later on, researchers have found. The reason may be that nitrates used in meat preparation combined with chemicals in smoke could be causing autoimmune problems.

    German doctors looked at the childhood diets of 177 MS patients and 88 controls, particularly at how much smoked sausage they ate. They found that the consumption of hot-smoked sausage, cold-smoked sausage and cold-smoked meat was associated with getting MS.

    More detailed statistical analysis showed that hot-smoked sausages (p=0.0001) and animal fat intake (p=0.028) made an independent contribution to MS risk.

    Dr Marcel Geilenkeuser, from the Darmstadt Clinic in Germany, said these findings confirmed earlier studies which suggested a link between the combination of nitrates and nitrites used to prepare meat for production of smoked sausages, and the phenols from smoke, with the production of nitrophenols, and autoimmunity problems.

    He said that MS, which only emerged at the start of the 19th century, could not simply be related to the chemicals in wood smoke. Communities in northern Europe had smoked their foods for many centuries without developing MS, but had not used nitrates or nitrites on the meat or fish before smoking.

    Nitrogenous chemicals are generally used to ensure that meat does not lose its colour during the smoking process.

    Source: 12th Meeting of the European Neurological Society, June 2002, Berlin. Reuters Health

    MS Genome Project
    The Whitehead Institute and a well-known Boston neurologist are teaming up to draft the first-ever genome of multiple sclerosis, a complex neurological disease that has long baffled scientists but is now believed to be caused by a number of genes.

    If successful, the project could do for the disease what the Human Genome Project has done to dramatically advance drug development. It is expected to yield new information about what causes the disease and may alter how biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies discover drugs to treat it.

    "I do believe this is real -- it's not a flash in the pan," said Dr. David Hafler, director of the molecular immunology lab at Brigham and Women's Hospital, who is taking a sabbatical from the hospital in order to work on the project. "It will fundamentally change how we look at disease. But we have many years of work ahead of us."

    Hafler and a team of researchers from Whitehead plan to raise "tens of millions of dollars" to support their research. They have established the MS International Consortium as well as three centres of research: at Whitehead, the University of California at San Francisco and Cambridge University in England. Each centre is beginning to collect data on MS patients and to map haplotypes (common sequences between genes) associated with the disease. "We hope to get at the genetic cause of the disease," said Eric Lander, director of the Whitehead Institute Center for Genome Research in Cambridge.

    Symptoms of the often-debilitating disease are caused by the inflammation and breakdown of myelin, a molecular substance that coats nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. The myelin is destroyed, leaving lesions, or "plaques," which interfere with the transmission of signals along the nerve pathways. However, the severity of the disease varies from person to person, with some having few symptoms from time to time to others who are unable to walk.

    Hafler began work on the project in January, when he left Brigham and Women's Hospital for a sabbatical. He sought the tutelage of Lander and his team, and Hafler now splits his time between an office at the Whitehead building and his office at Harvard.

    Lander and the Whitehead are well known for their work on helping the public effort to map the human genome, which was published in February 2001. The Whitehead has been using genetic information learned from mapping the genome to relate it to the cause of disease, so drugs can be made more effective. And in some cases, by mapping new genes, scientists have learned that some diseases thought to be environmental are in fact genetically linked. For example, last week, Waltham-based Genome Therapeutics Inc. published its discovery of the first ever gene to be linked to asthma, which was thought to develop over time due to environmental factors like dirty air. The company found the gene by comparing the genetic history of families in Iceland. It is similar to the approach that Lander and Hafler plan on taking in studying the genetic data of MS patients.

    "I think it's a very exciting project," said Steve Sookikian, a spokesman for the central New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "It offers hope for people with MS for better treatments."

    According to the MS society, nearly $32 million will be spent this year on more than 300 clinical investigations into the disease. About $10 billion is spent each year in the United States on health care costs related to the disease.

    Source: American City Business Journals Inc.

    Genes and MS
    A Danish study suggests that specific genes may determine the severity of MS. This may be why some people have a more severe form of the disease than others.

    Source: 1 August 2002. Multiple Sclerosis, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 295-298(4). Schreiber K and others. Department of Neurology, Copenhagen University Hospital.

    MRI Scans Show Early Brain Injury in High Risk Patients
    Studies based on MRI scans show that there is substantial subclinical injury at the earliest identifiable stages in patients considered at high risk of being diagnosed with MS. 99% of patients had brain lesions which showed up on an MRI scan.

    This finding came from the Controlled High-Risk Subjects Avonex Multiple Sclerosis Prevention Study (CHAMPS), a randomised, double-blind trial of 383 patients with a first acute clinical demyelinating event and evidence of prior subclinical demyelination on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

    These patients are likely to be in the first stages of MS. The study will follow the patients over many years to see what happens to them.

    Source: Baseline MRI characteristics of patients at high risk for multiple sclerosis: results from the CHAMPS trial
    1 August 2002. Multiple Sclerosis, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 330-338(9)

    Molecular Mimicry and MS
    Confused antibodies may trigger MS. Work directed by Dr. Michael Levin of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Memphis Veterans Medical Center, reinforces the concept known as molecular mimicry.

    Working with mice, the researchers found that the proteins patients produced to fight viral illness also mistakenly attacked healthy brain cells. Those proteins, called antibodies, are made by the patient's immune system to fight against viral infections.

    The antibodies appear to sicken but not kill the cells. "The next logical step is to try and understand how the antibodies are damaging nerve cells and how we can apply this to people with MS," Levin said.

    Researchers also identified the protein in brain cells that the antibodies target. "We think that MS patients might make antibodies to this protein or a related protein," Levin explained.

    Source:  Nature Medicine (10/07/03)

    © Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre

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