Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common neurological disease among young adults, typically appearing between the ages of 20 and 40. Over 400,000 Americans suffer from MS. More than 200 new patients are diagnosed each week and more women are affected than men.
Symptoms vary. Initially visual disturbance such as double vision or red-green confusion may be experienced. Soon muscle fatigue, pain, numbness, stiffness, or pins and needles develop. As the disease progresses, patients may lose coordination and endure symptoms such as tremors, dizziness, slurred speech, trouble swallowing, and emotional disturbances. The brain consists of billions of cells interconnected to form a complex network. Signals travel from cell to cell along "axons." Axons function much like electrical wiring and, like electrical wires, have a protective sheath (known as myelin) to maintain the integrity and speed of the electrical signal. MS symptoms develop because cells and chemicals of the immune system attack the brain’s cells (neurons) and damage the myelin sheath. Areas of scarred myelin, called lesions, disrupt the transmission of messages.
We do not know what triggers the immune system to destroy the myelin. It appears that certain variations in genes predispose individuals to MS. Although patients are often prescribed disease-modifying drugs that slow down its progression and alleviate some of the symptoms, there is no cure for MS.
However, there is room for optimism. Examples of Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center's initiatives to fight against MS include:
Understanding the disease. We are part of a 20-group worldwide collaboration to complete the largest ever genetics study of MS. Due to the collaborative nature of the study and the opportunity for MS research groups to pool patients’ DNA, it is anticipated that the study will identify virtually all of the MS risk genes. For more information, click MS Genetics Study.
Accelerating discoveries. The Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center has helped fund MS research initiatives such as the Genes and Environment in MS (GEMS) research studyas well as several MS studies through HNDC grant programs. For a complete list of MS grant funded projects, click here.
The Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center is dedicated to accelerating the discovery of effective treatments and cures for MS. For information about our many important initiatives and how to support our approach, click here. For information about coping with multiple sclerosis, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society website is very informative: National Multiple Sclerosis Society.