Microbiomes in Pediatric MS

Sponsor: National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Location(s): United States


EPIC (Expression, Proteomics, Imaging, Clinical) is an intensive observational study of a large population of people with MS, which employs the most advanced imaging, molecular, cellular and bioinformatic techniques to gain greater understanding of disease susceptibility and progression. Started in 2004 with over 500 participants, the EPIC study tracked its original cohort for 5 years before the study was temporarily suspended. Despite the brief hiatus, we are happy to announce that the project is back, and has been seeing participants since August 2012 with the plan to enroll new participants and continue for several more years.

Since its inception, the goal of EPIC has been to develop genetic biomarkers that predict not only who is susceptible to MS, but also how MS will behave once diagnosed (especially in progressive stages). We also hope that greater knowledge of genetic biomarkers will help us to determine the best therapy for an affected individual. We have made great strides towards identifying these biomarkers, however, we still have more to learn. While remaining faithful to the original purpose of EPIC, new discoveries and advancements in the laboratory have allowed us to expand our vision. In the next phase of the study, with the help of our new MS dedicated MRI scanner, we are transforming our imaging capabilities. In the laboratory, new assays and techniques are allowing us to process a greater variety of biological samples. The more information we collect, the richer our understanding of multiple sclerosis.

The intestinal tract is inhabited by thousands of beneficial bacterial species (collectively known as gut microbiota). Recent advances allow us to sequence the DNA of these microbiota and have led to exciting discoveries. We hypothesize that the gut microbiota of people with MS is substantially different from that of healthy individuals, and that those changes are an integral component of the pathogenic process that triggers MS. In analyzing the bacterial species of MS subjects and healthy individuals from the EPIC Study, we are confident that this information will help us understand the origins of MS, and devise new therapeutic strategies to treat this disease.