Scientists conducting a major study into multiple sclerosis in Shetland and Orkney are making a final appeal for volunteers to help them complete their work.
Study leader Jim Wilson, who is based at Edinburgh University, said there had been a “great” response both from those with the disease and those without, but he and his team required some more participants in the latter category.
In particular, they would like females aged between 39 and 51 with one parent from Shetland and one parent from Scotland; females aged between 51 and 63 with one parent from the South Mainland and one parent from the West Mainland; males aged between 60 and 72 with one parent from Scotland and one parent from Shetland; females aged between 47 and 59 with one parent from Shetland and one parent from Scotland; and females aged between 34 and 46 with one parent from Shetland and one parent from Scotland.
The study is attempting to find out why Shetland and Orkney have the highest prevalence of MS in the world. Dr Wilson hopes to find a new gene which influences the risk of developing the disease.
A new MS susceptibility gene was recently discovered in the isolated population of Ostrobothnia in Finland using the exact same approach as is being taken in the Northern Isles. It is unlikely to be the same gene in Finland and Shetland.
He said: “The basis of the study is to compare the DNA of the patients with that of the controls to see if it is possible to identify a gene that differs between them. To do this correctly the controls have to match the cases in terms of sex, age and where their family originates – the North Isles, part of the Mainland, etc.
“In spite of large numbers coming forward as controls, there are still a few patients for whom we do not have a good match and I would like to ask anyone who matches the criteria above but does not have MS among their immediate family to volunteer.
“Being a control involves one visit by Elizabeth Visser, our clinical research fellow, who will provide information about the study, go through a questionnaire to exclude symptoms of MS and then take a small blood sample to allow us to analyse the DNA.”
In addition, Dr Wilson is hoping that more people in their early 70s who are now unlikely to develop the disease will come forward to help.
In particular, the team is looking for females with one parent from the South Mainland and one from England; females with one parent from the Central Mainland and one from Scotland; females with one parent from the Central Mainland and one from Orkney; females with one parent from Bressay and one parent from Scotland; females with one parent from the Central Mainland and one from the North Mainland; females with one parent from the Central Mainland and one from Caithness/Sutherland; males with two parents from Yell; and males with one parent from Scotland and one from the Central Mainland.
Dr Wilson said the study was drawing to a close in the summer so this was the last chance to volunteer and help understand the causes of this devastating disease, and perhaps thereby open up a new avenue for treatment.
He said: “Only by understanding what has gone wrong can we begin to do something about it. Finding the genes is the first step on the road to new drugs against a disease.”
Any MS patients who have not yet volunteered and would like to take part are also welcome to come forward. To volunteer call 0131 651 1643 or email firstname.lastname@example.org