The Menzies Institute for Medical Research (an institute of the University of Tasmania) will take over the running of Australia’s largest study into multiple sclerosis (MS) in partnership with MS Research Australia.
The Australian MS Longitudinal Study (AMSLS) has been running for 13 years and has around 3000 active participants who are living with MS. Data from the study provides researchers, advocacy groups and government agencies with practical information on how MS is impacting on people’s lives.
The Menzies director, Professor Tom Marwick, said Menzies researchers had been investigating the environmental and genetic factors that led to the development of the MS, and those that contributed to its progression, for more than a decade.
“We are very excited to be taking over the stewardship of this important study and also to have the opportunity to consolidate our partnership with MS Research Australia,” Professor Marwick said.
“Tasmania has Australia’s highest per capita incidence of MS. The research at Menzies is making an important contribution to understanding the disease and its impacts, and managing the AMSLS will assist in translating that research into positive practical outcomes for people with MS.”
There are more than 650 people living with MS in Tasmania. Australia-wide three out of every four people diagnosed are women and the incidence of MS increases by 4% each year. Researchers are unsure why the disease is becoming more common.
The Chief Executive Officer of MS Research Australia, Dr Matthew Miles, said the organisation was delighted to be working with the Menzies team to continue this crucial research platform for people with MS.
“The team has an impressive international track record in MS research. It is a multi-disciplinary team with very strong connections in the MS research community and utas.edu.au this will be a great asset to the project,” he said. MS Research Australia was looking forward to a very productive period of research that would provide direct benefits to the Australian and international MS communities, he said.
The Menzies team that will manage the study is spearheaded by Senior Research Fellow and epidemiologist Associate Professor Ingrid van der Mei. “This study is important for improving the lives of people with MS, which can be done via research, advocacy and improving service delivery,” she said. One clear example was the finding that air conditioning use was 10 times higher in people with MS compared to the average Australian, because heat can make MS symptoms worse. This was then used by MS Australia to successfully advocate for a rebate on electricity.
In the past the AMSLS has provided data on the impact of MS on employment, its psycho-social impacts and on whether people living with MS are able to access information on the disease. Menzies Health Economist Professor Andrew Palmer used the study for analysis that found the economic cost of MS to Australia is around $1 billion per year. The reduction in quality of life associated with MS is similar to other serious conditions, such as stroke and end stage cancer.
Associate Professor van der Mei and collaborators are working on plans that will take the study in new directions. For example, she hopes to link the study data with other data such as clinical and service data to learn more about the progression and service use of people with MS. “Apart from my own interests, I will work closely with other stakeholders that can benefit from this resource as well as other Australian researchers.”
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