Health Watch - MS Discovery

January 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a frustrating disease to treat. There are drugs to help symptoms but none that target the cause.Now, a new discovery may help researchers better understand the cause of MS and develop life-saving treatments.

Janek Pawlik's son is his pride and joy. But this dad isn't as care-free as most. "I can't do things other fathers can do, like I don't give him piggybacks."

Janek has MS. His immune system attacks his nervous system and makes simple things like walking difficult.

"It changes how you perceive yourself and the things you think you can have. You get scared of living and scared of dying at the same time," Pawlik says.

MS affects 300,000 Americans. Researchers have spent decades trying to figure out what causes it.

Jonathan Haines, PHD. Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says "We've all been very frustrated by how slow a process it's been."

Now - for the first time in 30 years, they've identified a new gene that's involved in MS. It's called I-L-7-R. Having a variation of the gene increases a person's risk of MS by 30%.

"It's very exciting to us to actually make this breakthrough," says Dr. Haines.

Here's how they did it. Researchers took blood samples from thousands of patients with and without MS. Robots separated out the DNA and made hundreds of copies of it. Computer software helped researchers determine which groups had which genes.

Dr. Haines says "What it does is open up a whole new avenue for research to try to identify new targets."

Patients could be tested for the gene and put on treatments earlier. Also - therapies could be designed to target the genetic defect.

Janek's excited about the research. "It may not benefit me ever, but maybe my son or the next generation."

Testing for the gene could be a simple blood or saliva test.

This is only the second gene ever discovered in MS.

The first was discovered in the 1970's. Although researchers say this discovery proves MS is indeed a genetic disease, they believe other environmental factors also play a role.


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