Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

May 24, 2006 09:30 ET

Multiple Sclerosis Risk Influenced by Childhood Environment

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - May 24, 2006) -

Study of children and adults sheds new light on mysterious disease

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada announced findings from a Canadian study that shows the risk of MS may be influenced by place of residence during childhood rather than ancestry. The study results were published in a recent edition of Neuroepidemiology.

The study puts into question the belief that MS is a disease targeted primarily at Caucasians or those with ancestral ties to areas north of the equator such as Northern Europe.

The study involved 44 children and 573 adults from the paediatric MS clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children and the adult MS clinic at St. Michael's Hospital, both located in Toronto.

"By comparing study results with census data, we found that the MS population has become more multicultural as immigration to Ontario has increased," explains Dr. Brenda Banwell, director of the paediatric MS clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children and principal investigator for the study. "This adds great credence to our theory that childhood residence, more than ancestry, is a major determinant of MS risk."

The adult MS clinic population examined showed most of the patients, upwards of 90 percent, reported European heritage. Data from the 1971 census, obtained when most of the adult MS patients were growing up in Ontario, showed 84 percent of residents of Ontario were of European ancestry.

Meanwhile, paediatric MS patients were more likely to report Caribbean, Middle Eastern or Asian ancestry, accurately mirroring the population shift as detailed by the 2001 census.

"The common thread in all of this is that 100 percent of the paediatric population and 79 percent of the adult population grew up in Ontario," says Dr. Banwell. "This, combined with the ancestry data, suggests a prevailing influence of environment on MS risk."

According to the MS Society, this is an important study because the relative contributions of ancestry, country of birth and residence as determinants of MS risk have never been explored in the paediatric MS population.

"The change in immigration patterns, and the presence of well-established paediatric and adult MS programs, provided researchers with the unique opportunity to evaluate these factors as determinants of MS risk," says Dr. William J. McIlroy, national medical advisor for the MS Society of Canada. "The more complete a picture we can paint of MS and its risk factors, the closer we will be to finding the cause, and ultimately, the cure."

The study was funded by the MS Scientific Research Foundation which receives the majority of its funding from the MS Society of Canada.

About multiple sclerosis and the MS Society of Canada

MS is an unpredictable and often disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms vary from person-to-person but include tingling, vision problems and even paralysis. MS can occur at any age but it is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40, when people are finishing school, building careers and establishing families. With an estimated 55,000 - 75,000 people living with the disease and three more diagnosed each day, Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world. The impact of MS is far-reaching as one in two Canadians knows someone with MS.

The MS Society of Canada is almost entirely self-funded and is the largest per-capita supporter of MS research in the world. The mission of the MS Society is to be a leader in finding a cure for multiple sclerosis and enabling people affected by MS to enhance their quality of life.

Contact Information