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Long-Term Study on Family and Environment May Predict Who Will Develop MS

February 11, 2016

A research team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) launched a study on people at risk for developing multiple sclerosis.

This study focuses on first-degree members of MS patients with the aim to understand the sequence of events beneath the development of the condition. The study is also seeking to develop and test early interventions for people at risk for MS. This project, titled The Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis (GEMS) was recently published in the Annals of Neurology.

“Early detection of MS means the possibility of earlier treatment, which could delay the accumulation of disability,” explained the study’s co-senior author, Dr. Phil De Jager, director of the Program in Translational Neuro-Psychiatric Genomics at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at BWH, in a press release. “Our long-term goal is to map out the sequence of events leading from health to disease, in order to be able to identify and intervene early in individuals at high-risk of MS.”

The GEMS project established a platform to investigate the events leading to MS in at-risk individuals. The study was able to recruit 2,632 subjects from all 50 states. With 5,000+ immediate family members in tow, the study will continue for 20 years.

First-degree relatives are 20 to 40 times more prone to developing MS compared with the general population. Consistent with the notion that much of the disease is asymptomatic, clinically silent MS-like brain lesions are seen in 4 to 10 percent of MS family members.