Scientists from an international research project have claimed a breakthrough in our understanding of multiple sclerosis.
Researchers believe we may now be closer to a cure for the disease of the central nervous system, which affects around 100,000 people in the UK.
A life-long illness, MS involves a damage to the coating of nerve fibres, affecting how messages travel through the body and causing various symptoms including bad mobility. There is no known cause or cure.
But today, the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium has published findings of 48 genes that influence the risk of developing the disease.
Added to results from a similar study from 2011, there are now 110 genetic variants linked to MS.
Possibly underlining the central role the immune system plays in the development of MS, the listed genes - published in medical journal Nature Genetics - overlap with those linked to autoimmune diseases. These are diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells.
The study, which has its UK base at Cambridge University, used DNA samples from 80,000 people with and without MS.
Dr David Booth, from the University of Sydney, was one of the leading researchers. He told the Associated Press news agency: "The exciting thing about this is we have doubled the number of genes that we now know are associated with MS.
"What that means is every one of those new genes is potentially providing us with a new way to understand the disease and to come up with new therapies for the disease.
"So going forward we will try and find out why all of these genes affect MS. And particularly finding which processes are tagged by groups of genes and that will give us specific information on immune processes that are not functioning as they should."
And Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Head of Biomedical Research at the UK's MS Society, which co-funded the study, said:
“We need to discover as much as we can about the factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing MS if we’re to find new ways of treating or even, one day, preventing the condition. Genes are one of the key risk factors, so we’re delighted to have co-funded this work, which has identified several new avenues for MS research to follow.”