The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation recently announced the funding of new research on pediatric multiple sclerosis (MS) and on the role played by the gut microbiome in brain and autoimmune diseases.
Although only around 5% of all newly diagnosed MS cases affect children, the study of pediatric MS might best lead to a fuller understanding of the disease.
“This small percentage of MS cases actually represents a critical opportunity to potentially discover what causes MS,” said Dr. Helen Tremlett, Canada Research chair and principal investigator on the gut microbiome project, in a news release. “Through the families, we’re typically able to get a more complete health and lifestyle history, and we’re closer to the onset of the disease; there is less history to sort through with kids, and we’re better able to pinpoint when the disease took hold.”
The project’s goal is to sequence and analyze the genomes of the human microbiome at sites throughout the body to determine whether there is a core microbiota set shared by all humans. The research will be linked to an ongoing broader study called Canadian Demyelinating Disease (CDD), which includes the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), 17 pediatric healthcare centers in Canada, and 6 additional Canadian sites. The CDD study is led by the pediatric MS neurologist Dr. Brenda Banwell from CHOP and The Hospital for Sick Children. The project is supported by a $500,000 grant, spread over three years, from The MS Society of Canada and MS Scientific Research Foundation.
“The launch of this study represents an important advancement in pediatric research and serves as a great example of building on research progress,” noted Dr. Karen Lee, vice president, Research, MS Society of Canada. “I look forward to seeing what Dr. Helen Tremlett and her team will uncover in terms of the role that the natural bacteria that lives within us plays in MS.”
The enrollment phase for this first-of-its-kind multicenter study has already begun. Dr. Tremlett’s work focuses on the possible link between the gut microbiome and MS, and supports the idea of an association between the gut and neurodegenerative diseases — namely, pediatric MS.
“The microbiome is so important for a number of reasons,” Dr. Tremlett said. “The bacteria in your gut educates your immune system, and vice versa. We already know there’s a gut-brain connection, directly through the vagus nerve for instance, also via the immune system and perhaps through serotonin production — around 90 per cent of which is produced in your gut. Preliminary data shows we’re on the right track with this — we’re examining the link and trying to understand the influence of the gut microbiota in MS and MS on the gut microbiota.”
Dr. Tremlett recently took part in a University of California study comparing 18 children with MS and 17 healthy children. “We discovered that while there was no huge difference in the overall composition, richness and diversity of the gut microbiota between the two groups of children, some very interesting subtle differences were observed and the MS drug treatments appeared influential,” she said. “We really believe we’re onto something important in pursuing these lines of research.”
This new study will bring together, for the first time, Canadian and U.S. pediatric MS institutions as well as demyelinating diseases networks.