New Irish-UK genetics collaboration could be largest MS-focused study ever

30 Aug 2018

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Genomics Medicine Ireland has announced a new research collaboration with the University of Cambridge to further MS research.

In an effort to better understand the very genetic code of multiple sclerosis (MS), Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI) has announced it is to team up with the University of Cambridge.

MS is one of the most common disabling neurological diseases and directly affects an estimated 2.5m people across the globe, with the majority of those experiencing chronic disability.

This latest collaboration, GMI said, will leverage up to 15,000 DNA-extracted MS samples, which are part of a biobank compiled by the University of Cambridge’s Prof Stephen Sawcer in conjunction with his team in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences.

Importance of the project

This huge dataset – when combined with GMI’s ongoing cross-border MS research study – will result in one of the world’s largest MS-focused genomics studies ever.

The English university has quite a history when it comes to MS study, having been the first to analyse neural signalling in the 1930s and heralding some of the early theoretical approaches to the functions of neural circuitry in the 1960s.

Speaking of the importance of the project, Sawcer said that while there are hundreds of genetic variants that influence the risk of developing MS, little is known about how they exert these effects.

Currently, there is no hard evidence about which genetic variants influence the severity of the disease or determine the best treatment for an individual.

‘Significantly greater possibility for discoveries’

Dr Sean Ennis, co-founder and chief scientific officer at GMI, added: “We’re really excited to collaborate with Cambridge’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences in greatly expanding our research into MS.

“Our enlarged dataset means that we now have a significantly greater possibility for discoveries, which will benefit not only MS patients in Ireland and the UK, but across the world also.”

Last June, GMI issued a call-out for people living with two chronic rheumatic conditions: ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nrAxSpA).

The study aims to identify and examine the underlying genetic factors that are common among people with AS or nrAxSpA. In doing this, researchers could identify commonalities and linkages that can help diagnose the diseases early on, predict their severity, and suggest personalised treatments and possibly a cure.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic