A $634,000 grant from the Department of Defense is allowing researchers at the University at Buffalo to investigate a trio of environmental factors and their influence on the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a press release.
The 2-year project, headed by Murali Ramanathan, PhD, tests the hypothesis that nicotine metabolism, the byproducts of vitamin D metabolism and increased levels of anti-Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) each interact with variations in specific genes to cause increased neurodegeneration and increased lesions in MS patients.
“We will use a novel approach to measure the levels of vitamin D and its metabolites, EBV exposure and nicotine metabolites from cigarette smoking,” Ramanathan, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences and neurology in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, respectively, stated in the release. “We have developed sensitive and selective measurements for key metabolites in the vitamin D and nicotine metabolism pathways using mass spectrometry, a method that has not been used previously to study vitamin D metabolism.”
The study is a collaboration between the University of Buffalo and investigators from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, and will be conducted on samples obtained at both universities’ MS centers.
They will assess the risk of developing clinically definite MS and the time to progression, as well as the neurodegeneration in the brain of MS patients, as measured by brain atrophy, and the extent of brain injury caused by lesions.
The novel study design will include the genetic variations that were associated with the risk of developing MS, as well as genes that determine the levels and responses to environmental factors. MS patients will be divided into two equal groups: a training group that will be used to identify gene-environmental interactions, and a group that will be used to replicate the training group result.
“Identifying gene-environmental interactions is critical for developing better strategies for slowing the progression of MS, because it could enable patients with preexisting genetic risk factors to reduce the rate of disease progression through lifestyle modification,” Ramanathan stated.