According to researchers from the Barts Health NHS Trust and Queen Mary University of London, multiple sclerosis (MS) may actually be affected more by environmental factors than genetic ones.

In a study published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, they showed that certain races in east London have a higher MS prevalence rate compared to individuals living in their native countries, which is indicative of a strong influence that environment has on the disease.

MS is a neurodegenerative disease affecting the central nervous system and the most prevalent of chronic but non-traumatic causes of disability in young adults. The cause of the disease is not known but evidence suggests that both environmental and genetic factors are at play.

"Our early results suggest that environmental factors play a pivotal role in the risk of developing MS, whilst the individual genetic backdrop may be of lesser importance," said Dr. Klaus Schmierer, the study's lead.

For the study, the researchers examined electronic records from general practices across the east London boroughs: City of London, Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. Out of the 907,151 patients going to east London general practices, there were 776 who had MS. The overall prevalence rate in east London for MS was 111 for every 100,000.

Comparing prevalence rates specific to races, the researchers found that MS was several times more prevalent in African-Caribbean and South Asian groups living in east London compared to those living in their native countries.

For instance, where African-Caribbeans in east London had a prevalence rate of 74 for every 100,000, Ghanaians in their own country had a prevalence rate of 0.24 for every 100,000. On the other hand, South Asians registered a prevalence rate of 29 for every 100,000 while those in Pakistan and India recorded five and seven for every 100,000, respectively.

If risk factors can be clearly defined, as well as their proportional relevance, measures can be taken to not only alleviate these factors but to eradicate them completely, where possible. And with its contributing factors gone, MS could also be ultimately eradicated.

Kambiz Boomla, Benjamin P. Turner, Narmadha Kali Vanan, Timothy du Sautoy and Christo Albor worked alongside Schmierer for the study.

Photo: Philippe Put | Flickr

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