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New multiple sclerosis genes after 30-year hunt

New genes linked to multiple sclerosis have been identified. Approximately 60,000 people in the UK suffer from multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease of the nervous system. The finding will not lead directly to new tests or treatments, as experts say that as many as 100 more genes may play a role in multiple sclerosis (MS).

However, a Cambridge University researcher said he now expected swifter progress to reveal them all. The joint project used the latest genome-scanning technology to look at the genetic make-up of thousands of MS patients, looking for signs of tiny genetic differences which might mean a greater risk of developing the illness.

It concluded that people carrying either of two genetic variants, called IL7R-alpha and IL2R-alpha, had an increased risk of between 20% and 30%. Dr Stephen Sawcer, from Cambridge University, said that even though this only represented a tiny increase in risk, it was a “landmark” discovery.

The research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature Genetics.