International experts are gathering in Cambridge this week to plan the next step in their fight to unravel the genetics of multiple sclerosis (MS).
The Genetics of MS workshop, part-funded by the UK's MS Society and the USA's National MS Society, brings together 50 neurologists and scientists from across the EU, the United States and Australia.
A better understanding of the genes behind MS should improve chances of coming up with targeted and effective treatments.
Dr Stephen Sawcer, of Cambridge University, said: "The genes behind MS are more difficult to find than we thought and no individual group of researchers has enough power on their own.
"This workshop brings together a group of colleagues committed to bringing their expertise to bear to find out what they can about MS."
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, said: "The MS Society has doubled its research investment this year to £3million and we are very pleased that this means we can support this groundbreaking event. A better understanding of MS will be a major boost to everyone fighting to develop effective treatments."
The researchers gathering at Cambridge have joint access to data from more than 14,000 people with MS across the world and Dr Sawcer said they hoped access to this extensive pool of resources would better direct future treatments.
A similar approach bore fruit earlier this year when a core group of these researchers identified the first new MS genes in 30 years. This week will see the International MS Genetics Consortium (IMSGC) and the Genetic Analysis of Multiple sclerosis in EuropeanS (GAMES) collaborative group joining forces to plan their next moves.
Dr Sawcer said: "We all tend to think that a specific gene causes a disease, but that's not the case in MS. In a complex disease like MS multiple genes, each exerting a modest individual effect, play only a role in influencing someone risk of developing the disease, and are not enough on their own to course the disease.
"There are probably around 100 genes involved in MS and you might need, say, 70 or so of the weaker forms of these genes for it to be possible to develop the condition. Understanding the genetics of MS will not lead to gene therapy or a diagnostic test for MS.
"Instead, what an understanding of MS will allow us to do is to focus research on the relevant parts of the immune system etc. You are far more likely to come up with an effective treatment if you have a clearer understanding of the disease, rather than relying on a process of trial and error."
Source: MS Society (09/11/07)