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GMI Research Study Aims to Unlock Answers to Multiple Sclerosis

Irish life sciences company Genomics Medicine Ireland Ltd. (GMI) today announced a new cross-border research collaboration that aims to identify the genetic markers that can help diagnose, predict disease severity, and identify personalised treatments for patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

People with MS are being invited to participate in the research, which is the most comprehensive genomic study of MS to be undertaken on the island of Ireland. The hospitals and research centres involved in the launch of this study are: Cork University Hospital; St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin; Tallaght Hospital, Dublin; and hospitals in the Western Health and Social Care Trust area, Northern Ireland, in conjunction with the Clinical Translational Research Centre (C-TRIC) at Altnagelvin Hospital site in Derry/Londonderry.

MS is one of the most prevalent diseases of the central nervous system and directly affects approximately 9,000 people in Ireland1 and an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide. It is the most common disabling neurological disorder amongst young people, especially aged 20-30, and approximately 250 people are diagnosed with the condition every year in Ireland.

Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most elusive diseases to diagnose: symptoms can vary widely between patients, they can appear and disappear over long periods of time, and there is no one single definitive test to identify it. The results of the wide range of tests available can take some time to process, and because symptoms can come and go the tests can be difficult to perform. Genomics – the study of all of a person’s genes (the genome) – aims to reduce this complexity by identifying the genetic markers related to MS, thereby leading to more efficient and effective diagnosis and treatment.

Sean Ennis, Chief Scientific Officer of Genomics Medicine Ireland, said, “There is no known cause of MS but it is generally held that it is a combination of factors such as genetics, environment and a person’s immune system. MS itself is not hereditary but the risk factors are increased if a family member has the disease.  This study will give us a greater understanding of the role of genetics in MS, helping the development of more targeted therapies for treating and managing the condition. Ultimately, in the longer term, we are looking to gain insights that will lead to the prevention of the disease.”

Speaking at the launch, Andrea O’Mahony, a 32-year-old from Ovens in Cork who has been living with MS for the last 10 years, added, “Multiple Sclerosis is such a complex disease – the symptoms can vary significantly from person to person, making it difficult to diagnose and treat effectively. The result is that it can take time to conduct the tests and find the appropriate treatments, depending on the person and the form of the disease they have. So I’m really excited by the potential of this research study by GMI to identify the genetic markers of MS, which could lead to early detection, more accurate targeted treatments, and more. The more people who partake in the study the better we can understand the disease, and this brings with it the potential to, in time, find a cause and cure. I would encourage everyone with any form of MS to contact their consultant and help contribute to the research.”

Aoife Kirwan from Kildare, who was diagnosed with MS six years ago when she was 23, added that, “As a mother I am obviously very interested in the potential for genomics to identify the genetic markers for Multiple Sclerosis.  The study itself has the potential for genomics to diagnose diseases at an early stage, which is incredible.  Early detection and intervention with chronic illnesses like MS is important and any research that advances this is obviously very exciting. It’s an extremely positive step and I’m thrilled that Ireland is the first country to undertake such a wide-ranging study, which could have implications not only for us in Ireland but also for the MS community worldwide.”

Ava Battles, Chief Executive of MS Ireland, commented that, “People in Ireland living with MS embrace these types of research studies and want to encourage greater examination of MS. The more people who participate in this study, the greater the opportunity to make very significant breakthroughs into the causes of MS and into potential treatments.  Ireland can take a lead within the global MS community to help accelerate discovery.”

People with MS that are attending any of the hospitals involved in the study and who are interested in participating in the research can ask their consultant for more information.

Genomics Medicine Ireland also hopes to extend the study to other hospitals in the near future.


1 MS Ireland