Chch medic leads trial studying MS

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 07/01/2013
Deborah Mason
Deborah Mason

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A Christchurch neurologist is leading part of the world's first clinical trial into whether a vitamin supplement can help prevent multiple sclerosis (MS).

The trial will involve 240 people with early MS in Australia and New Zealand to test how vitamin D could influence the disease.

The research follows a 2011 international study into the cause of MS, which involved more than 27,000 people in 15 countries.

Christchurch Hospital-based neurologist Dr Deborah Mason will oversee the New Zealanders taking part in the new study, while Professor Bruce Taylor, a former Christchurch neurologist now based in Hobart, is one of the researchers heading the trial in Australia.

The prevalence of MS in New Zealand was high compared to many other parts of the world and appeared to be increasing, Mason said, particularly in women.

"There's got to be some kind of environmental factor that we haven't explored yet . . . like sunshine. Lots of people take vitamin D supplements, including MS patients, but it's not known whether it actually works or not."

New Zealanders could be particularly susceptible to MS because our low latitude resulted in low levels of vitamin D, she said.

"New Zealand is uniquely placed to do this research because we've got this country that's got very large latitudinal difference and we've got a very good health system so we can track people."

About 79 New Zealanders in every 100,000 had MS. In Northland, the rate dropped to 50 to 55, but in Southland it was 135 to 140.

The trial could help researchers find a cheaper treatment for early MS, and provide information on how to prevent or modify the disease, she said.

MS could be extremely debilitating and often hit people during their 20s or 30s "during what typically should be the most productive years of their lives".

"The whole aim has to be to prevent disability before it occurs."

MS Research Australia has pledged $3.5 million towards the study, which is scheduled to begin this month and will continue for two years.

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