Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 12:03 UK
Living life with multiple sclerosis

By Dr Jim Wilson
Public Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh

Multiple sclerosis is a complex disease, with genetic and environmental risk factors.


Genetic studies which attempted to find these genes, however, have not met with much success.

I am leading a study, which has recently been funded by the MS Society, into the genetics of multiple sclerosis.

The project will take a new approach to identifying the genes underlying MS risk using novel technology, and analyses an important population - the MS patients from the islands of Orkney and Shetland.

These islands have some of the highest rates of MS in the world and are less complex genetically than urban populations, which is an advantage for finding genes.

The two-year project aims to collect DNA samples from all willing patients and a set of controls, who do not have the disease.

A genome-wide scan will be performed using hundreds of thousands of DNA markers.

The data will then be analysed using homozygosity mapping, a powerful approach which depends on shared ancestry and which has recently successfully located new genes influencing the risk of autism.

Exploring the basic mechanisms underlying susceptibility to MS will increase our knowledge of the disease so that new means of diagnosis and treatment might be identified.

It may eventually be possible to identify new genes that are implicated in the development of the disease, which would potentially act as targets for new drugs.

Anyone interested in taking part in the study can call 0131 651 1643 or email

There is more about multiple sclerosis and the apparent Scottish link in Elizabeth Quigley's television investigation, "Scotland's Hidden Epidemic: The truth about MS", which will be broadcast on BBC One Scotland at 2245 BST on Wednesday.


Estimates by national MS charities

Country Number of people with MS Prevalance (people with MS per 100,000)
UK 85,000 143.8
Sweden 12,000 134.8
Ireland 4,500 125.0
Denmark 6,000 112.0
Canada 35,000 111.0
Iceland 285 105.1
Germany 110,000 99.0
Finland 5,000 98.0
Czech Republic 10,000 97.1
Netherlands 15,000 94.9
Luxembourg 400 94.1
USA 250,000 91.7
Italy 50,000 88.2
Belgium 8,900 87.5
Norway 3,800 86.4
Austria 7,000 86.4
France 50,000 84.9
New Zealand 3,000 81.3
Israel 4,500 80.4
Poland 30,000 77.1
Spain 30,000 76.7
Hungary 6,600 65.0
Australia 12,000 63.8
Estonia 725 51.0
Portugal 5,000 50.5
Cyprus 350 46.7
Greece 5,000 46.7
Turkey 30,000 46.4
Bulgaria 3,200 39.3
Romania 7,500 33.4
Argentina 5,000 13.6
Mexico 8,000 8.1
Libya 290 5.9
Brazil 7,000 4.0
Japan 5,000 4.0
South Africa 1,500 3.5
Hong Kong 50 0.9
Taiwan 175 0.8
Zimbabwe 50 0.5

Dismay over MS treatment decision
11 Dec 06 |  Scotland
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02 Oct 06 |  Health
Rowling gives boost to MS centre
19 Apr 06 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
Multiple sclerosis
05 Jun 06 |  Medical notes

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