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What Triggers MS in Kids? Researchers Recruiting Kids for Important Study of Environmental and Genetic Risk Factors

August 10, 2015

Investigators nationwide are recruiting 640 children with early relapsing-remitting MS or CIS (clinically isolated syndrome, a single episode of MS-like symptoms) and 1280 children without MS or CIS for a four-year study to determine environmental and genetic risk factors that make children susceptible to developing MS. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, leverages the National MS Society’s support of the Network of Pediatric MS Centers (NPMSC). 

Background: In contrast to adult MS, pediatric MS appears to have a narrower window of onset with more rapid and pervasive cognitive symptoms, which need to be better understood if effective treatments are to be provided. The NPMSC was launched with Society funding in 2006 to set the standard for pediatric MS care, educate the medical community about this underserved population, and create the framework to conduct critical research. Since 2013, the Society has committed $5.8 million to support the research Network to provide essential infrastructure to facilitate research, such as this study.

The five-year, $3.2 million grant to lead investigator Dr. Emmanuelle Waubant (University of California, San Francisco Pediatric MS Center) began in 2011. The sites have enrolled 450 kids with MS, and more than 600 controls. In early findings, the team has shown that low vitamin D status, which has been linked to MS risk, was associated with MS relapses only if kids have a specific immune gene. Further research, which is underway, may shed new light on who may be helped most by vitamin D supplementation. (Multiple Sclerosis January 14, 2016) They also reported that gut bacteria – which is gaining ground as a risk factor in the development of the immune attack in MS – is altered in children with MS. (Read more)

Who Is Eligible To Participate? Those age 3 or older who had disease onset (MS or CIS) under age 18 in the last four years may enroll in this study with the consent of their parents. Children who don’t have MS or CIS can enroll if they are 3-21 years of age, don’t have a demyelinating disease, an autoimmune disorder (except asthma or eczema), an organ transplant or a parent/sibling who has been diagnosed with MS.

Kids who are enrolled provide blood samples once and complete questionnaires about relevant environmental factors. Investigators also will draw information from participants’ medical records.

Investigators specifically are looking at genes, Epstein Barr and other common viruses, vitamin D levels, and exposure to cigarette smoking. They are attempting to confirm these risk factors separately and to determine whether there are any interactions between them.

Contact: For further information, please contact Janace Hart (University of California, San Francisco) at

These sites are enrolling participants nationwide:
University of California, San Francisco Pediatric MS Center, San Francisco, CA
Lourie Center for Pediatric MS, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
Partners Pediatric MS Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Boston, MA
Pediatric MS Center of the Jacobs Neurological Institute, University of Buffalo, NY
Regional Pediatric MS Center at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
The Blue Bird Circle Clinic for MS at Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, TX
Pediatric MS Clinic, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, MA
Pediatric MS Clinic, University of Colorado, Denver, CO
Pediatric MS Clinic, University of Texas, Southwestern, Dallas, TX
Pediatric MS Clinic, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Pediatric MS Clinic, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Pediatric MS Center, Loma Linda University Health, Loma Linda, CA
Center for Pediatric-Onset Demyelinating Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama, Birmingham, AL
Pediatric Neurology Clinic, Primary Children's Medical Center, Salt Lake City, UT
Pediatric MS Clinic, Washington University School of Medicine, Saint Louis, MO
Pediatric MS Clinic, Children's National Medical Center, Washington DC
Mellen Center for MS, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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