Orkney and Shetland are believed to have the highest prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis in the world. The risk of developing MS is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. The Multiple Sclerosis in the Northern Isles of Scotland (NIMS) study is investigating the genetic and other factors which might contribute. Work in Orkney and Shetland in the 1970s suggested that consanguinity was a risk factor for MS. This would implicate recessive genetic variants in the aetiology of MS. The NIMS study is using state-of-the-art genomic methods developed in our group to test if this is the case. We are also assessing the degree to which the major genetic risk factor for MS, the HLA-DRB1*1501 variant, is also important in determining risk in Orkney and Shetland. Studies 30 years ago suggested that there might not be an association with this marker in Orkney, uniquely in northern Europe. We will also look at whether we can see clustering of cases in families or geographic areas in the Northern Isles.
The data collection was carried out by Dr Elizabeth Visser under the guidance of Dr Carl Counsell of the University of Aberdeen. We were awarded another grant to carry out the first proper prevalence study in Orkney and Shetland for 30 years, and compare to prevalence in Aberdeen City.
The results are being analysed and written up for publication by Dr Ruth McQuillan; they will feature here when published.