Lead by life sciences company Genomics Medicine Ireland Ltd (GMI), it’s the most comprehensive genomic study of MS ever undertaken on the island of Ireland.
Andrea’s neurologist at Cork University Hospital (CUH), Brian Sweeney, said the project is seeking to recruit 6,000 people with MS on the island, whose DNA will be analysed, with a view to identifying the genetic markers that can help diagnose, predict disease severity, and identify personalised treatments for patients.
He said the “relative homogeneity” of the Irish population “means it is easier to identify and study genetic variants amongst a test population”.
“As a small island nation, we really haven’t experienced much immigration until recent times, so the population has remained fairly stable,” said Dr Sweeney. “It’s a good county to look at patterns rather than somewhere that has experienced a lot of immigration.”
Dr Sweeney said that there are “certainly genetic influences” when it comes to MS. For instance, in the case of a family where a member has MS, there is a 3% chance of another family member developing it, putting the risk at between three in 100 compared to one in 500-700 in the general population.
Andrea, now 32, from Aherla, Co Cork, is not aware of any family history of MS. Hers began as what she thought was an innocuous pain in her leg, but other symptoms quickly followed: a numbness of the lower left leg, slurred speech, blurred vision and short-term memory loss.
Today, she is “doing well”, and has been off medication since July, which Andrea describes as “bitter-sweet” because of her fears of relapse.
“The last proper relapse that resulted in hospitalisation was about three years ago,” she says.
In the meantime, she’s getting on with the business of living and enjoying her 10-year-old son Benjamin, who was just one at the time of diagnosis.
Andrea believes the new research is a fantastic opportunity to build up a picture that could lead to a better understanding of MS, with “the potential to, in time, find a cause and cure”.
People with MS who are attending CUH; St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin; Tallaght Hospital, Dublin; and a number of hospitals in the North and who are interested in participating, can ask their consultant for more information.