Day 1 of the endMS Conference turned out to be a very busy, eventful one. We started bright and early at 8:00am with opening remarks, and jumped right into the first scientific presentations.
Dr. David Hafler, a neurologist and world-leading MS expert from Yale School of Medicine, opened with an insightful presentation on causes of MS. Recent advancements in science and technology and have enabled researchers like Dr. Hafler to pioneer ground breaking experiments that provide details about the gene-biology-environment interactions in MS.
Data from these experiments show that the genes associated with increased risk of MS are predominantly immune system-related genes. Interestingly, this group of genes is also implicated in other conditions like crohn’s & colitis (another autoimmune disease with features similar to MS). Dr. Hafler’s research also shows that genes undergo very small but important chemical changes that affect the activity of immune cells, specifically the Th1, Th17, Treg and B cells (all types of white blood cells of the immune system). These genetic modifications control how the blood cells behave in MS, which in turn significantly influences disease course.
Dr. Hafler reminded us that genes and changes to the immune system are not the only determinants of MS. Research is providing more interesting clues about how the environment is playing a role. His research team at Yale recently published data on the potential contribution of salt, which shows that giving salt to mice with an MS-like disease leads to worsening of symptoms.
Overall Dr. Hafler’s presentation reminded us of how far science has come in allowing the research community to pin down the exact cells, genes, and external factors that are involved in MS. It is apparent that the processes underlying MS are very complex. Thus, the more details we know, the closer we are to more targeted therapies that will slow down or stop the disease in its tracks.
Stay tuned for my next post, which will highlight an emerging, unconventional view of MS causation and progression, as well as some interesting techniques that are now being used to screen and track MS at the cellular level.