Genetic Breakthrough Offers Hope to People with Multiple Sclerosis

The first genetic advance in multiple sclerosis research in three decades has opened new approaches to treating the neurological disorder, scientists say.

Research has identified two genetic variants that each raises a person’s risk of developing MS by about 30 percent, shedding new light on the origins of the autoimmune disease that could ultimately lead to better therapies, the London Times reported.

The two genes are the first to be linked conclusively to MS since the mid1970s, when the only other gene that is known to contribute to the condition was found.

Their discovery is particularly promising as both are involved in managing the activity of T-cells, the “infantry” of the immune system that sometimes mistakenly attack healthy tissue to cause autoimmune conditions. In MS, the immune system starts to destroy the fatty myelin sheaths that insulate nerve cells, leading to progressive neurological damage.

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Both genes, which control receptors that T-cells use to find their targets, are potential targets for new drugs to control MS. They were found in a major study of the genetics of MS published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the significance of one has been confirmed in two separate papers published in Nature Genetics.