Conference Coverage

Genetic signature helps identify those at risk of MS



Genetic and molecular studies are coming closer to pinpointing just when multiple sclerosis really starts, Philip De Jager, MD, PhD, said in a precision medicine–focused session at the meeting of the Americas Committee on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis.

“MS remains a diagnosis of exclusion ... But we’re now beginning to understand a lot more about the earliest stages of the disease, and we’re constantly redefining the disease in terms of when it starts, and what it consists of,” said Dr. De Jager, professor of neurology and chief of neuroimmunology at Columbia University, New York, in an interview.

For example, physicians are now starting to treat asymptomatic individuals with radiologically isolated syndrome, he said. “Is that part of the disease? Well, a lot of us think so, and we’re currently doing the studies to see whether treating them has an impact on long-term disability.”

“In this effort to redefine this disease and when it starts, these molecular and cellular studies are becoming very important,” Dr. De Jager said. Both individuals in the general population and high-risk individuals, such as family members of people with MS, will benefit from these research approaches, he said.

Right now, it’s hard to know who could benefit most from future preventive therapies, or who should have the most rigorous surveillance.

Dr. De Jager pointed to a presentation by his collaborator, Nikolaos Patsopoulos, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, who reported on the activities of the International MS Genetics Consortium. The consortium has collected and is nearing publication of data from more than 45,000 people with MS and 65,000 control participants to identify the genetic architecture of MS onset.

“We’re going to be reporting that there are over 234 genetic variations” that contribute to the onset of MS, Dr. De Jager said. “There are more to be found, but that’s a large number,” he said. The data point toward a genetic fingerprint that’s close to lupus, type 1 diabetes, and other inflammatory diseases. This shared genetic architecture means that there’s overlapping susceptibility for many diseases in this spectrum.

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