The first case of multiple sclerosis (MS) was documented in 1421, followed by the first pictorial representations of MS in the 1830s. Despite its long history, the autoimmune disease remains a mystery. But there are also rays of hope, as the latest research findings show.
The international research network International MS Genetics Consortium recently presented the results of its survey in the journal Science. A total of 233 variations in the human genome were identified as risk factors for the development of multiple sclerosis. Prof. Dr. Frauke Zipp considers the findings to be groundbreaking: “Our current replication study is a milestone in research into the genetic basis of multiple sclerosis. In particular, understanding the risk factors could in future offer the option of predicting an individual’s risk of developing the condition.” She warned, however, that further international research is necessary.
The study shows that the gene variations affect a large number of immune cells, which could lead to a malfunction of the entire immune system. The research results suggest that above all the so-called microglia play an important role in the development of MS.
Women much more frequently affected
Between 2 and 2.5 million people worldwide are affected by multiple sclerosis, revealing major gender differences. Women are about three times more likely to be affected by relapsing-remitting MS than men. The International MS Genetics Consortium has identified a genetic variant for multiple sclerosis on the X sex chromosome: “Since this is present twice in women but only as a part of the XY chromosome pair in men, this research result could be an explanation why women have a higher risk of developing multiple sclerosis than men,” says Dr. Nikolaos Patsopoulos in a press release.
MS studies cause controversy
Although progress has been made in researching the disease, the studies are also causing disagreement among experts. A working group of the Drug Commission of the German Medical Association, the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care as well as Berlin’s Charité, is calling for the perspectives of MS patients to be given greater consideration in the future.
Their accusation: the symptoms are not taken into account in most studies. Among other things, MS patients suffer more frequently from loss of vision, cognitive impairment, depression, spasticity and pain. In addition, the working group considers it necessary to examine study participants for a longer period. Otherwise, there is a risk that later occurring side effects will remain under the radar.
All-clear for MS patients regarding coronavirus
The coronavirus continues to dominate media coverage. In Germany alone, there are roughly 14,000 confirmed cases, as reported by the Robert Koch Institute (20 March). The total number of people infected worldwide is currently at 248,684, and continues to rise. Various researchers are looking into the question of whether Covid-19 increases the risk for people with multiple sclerosis.
Prof. Mäurer gives the all-clear in this regard, at least in part: The chief physician for neurology and early neurological rehabilitation emphasizes that multiple sclerosis “is not per se a risk factor for a severe course of corona virus infection”. Accordingly, there is no higher susceptibility than in the German normal population. However, he concludes that there are still very limited hard data and scientific studies on this topic.