Ground-Breaking Study May Determine the Cause of Multiple Sclerosis


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable and at times disabling disease of the central nervous system. Although MS can occur at any age, it is typically diagnosed in the years when people are finishing school, building careers and establishing families. It is estimated, however, that as many as 25 per cent of adult MS patients feel their disease started during their childhood or teenage years.

As a result of these claims, researchers are now looking to children to shed new light on the key triggers that cause MS. Scheduled to begin in July, a landmark $4.3-million study of MS in children is expected to provide unique insights into the development and progression of the disease. This five-year study, taking place in 22 Canadian hospitals, will study children who have experienced an initial attack, known as clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). Some, but not all of these children will go on to develop MS.

Researchers will follow these children closely in order to determine features associated with the risk of a second (MS-defining) attack. Studying children from the time of the first attack allows researchers to explore the biological factors involved in the very beginning of the MS disease process. Researchers hope that these studies will identify the factors involved in the development of MS.

“The risk of developing MS after an initial attack of the immune system on the brain or spinal cord is currently unknown. We do not know the key triggers of the MS disease process, nor do we know how these triggers interact with an individual’s immune system,” said Dr. Brenda Banwell, lead study investigator and director of the Hospital for Sick Children’s Paediatric MS Clinic in Toronto. “My colleagues and I are extremely hopeful this work will help us understand the disease at its onset, benefiting both children and adults with MS.”

This study will attempt to answer two important questions: What is the cause of MS and what is the risk of developing MS after one attack? Three components of the study include (1) determining what MS looks like in a child; (2) determining what causes MS; and (3) determining the appearance of MS in a child’s brain.

Funding for this unique study is provided by the MS Scientific Research Foundation. This and many other MS research projects are made possible through MS Society of Canada, fund raising activities like the MS Carnation Campaign and the RONA MS Bike Tours. The MS Society is a leader in providing funding for innovative research and vital services for people with MS and their families. The MS Society of Canada and the MS Scientific Research Foundation are the largest funders of MS research in Canada. The Foundation receives almost all of its funding from the MS Society of Canada.