Identifying the Environmental Triggers of MS

Dr Robyn Lucas

Australian National University, ACT

| Causes and Prevention | Epidemiology | Fellowship | 2006 | National Collaborative Platforms |


The Ausimmune Study is a major epidemiological study undertaken in four Australian regions on the eastern seaboard, ranging from Brisbane in the north, through Newcastle and Geelong, to Tasmania in the south. The study aims to identify environmental factors that may be important in the development of MS.

Project Outcomes

From 1 Nov 2003 to 31 Dec 2006 the Ausimmune Study recruited 283 people with a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination (cases). For each of these people the study also recruited 1 to 4 non-affected persons randomly selected from the Australian Electoral Roll. Following recruitment, each participating case was contacted annually to assess their health status, and, from 1 Jan 2007 to 31 Dec 2008 participated in a full face-to-face review, with data on health status as well as any changes in environmental factors of interest.

The study collected data on a broad range of factors of importance using questionnaires, examination by a study doctor and/or nurse and blood sampling. Measurement of vitamin D levels in the blood on all participants has recently been completed and genetic and viral studies are currently underway.

Preliminary results show that a development of central nervous system demyelination is significantly more common with increasingly southerly latitude. Further work will identify the causes behind this pattern, in the hopes that it may provide information to decrease the risks of developing MS.


  • Lucas RM., Ponsonby A-L., McMichael AJ., van der Mei., Chapman C., Coulthard A., Dear K., Dwyer T.,Kilpatrick TJ., Pender MP., Taylor B., Valery P., Williams D. Observational analytic studies in multiple sclerosis: controlling bias through study design and conduct. The Australian Multi-centre Study of Environment and Immune Function. Multiple Sclerosis 2007; 13(7): 827-39
  • Lucas RM., Ponsonby A-L., Dear K., Taylor B., Dwyer T., McMichael AJ., Valery P., van der Mei I., Williams D.,Pender MP., Chapman C., Coulthard A., Kilpatrick T. Silicone skin casts are a useful objective measure of cumulative sun exposure in population-based studies. Submitted to Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention ( under revision)

Updated: 05 January, 2006



  • Associate Professor Keith Dear
  • Professor Michael Pender
  • Professor Alan Coulthard
  • Dr Patricia Valery
  • Dr David Williams
  • Dr Caron Chapman
  • Professor Trevor Kilpatrick
  • Associate Professor Bruce Taylor
  • Dr Ingrid van der Mei
  • Professor Anthony J McMichael
  • Professor Anne-Louise Ponsonby

Grant Awarded

  • Fellowship

Total Funding

  • $179,500


  • 3 years over 2006 - 2008

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Identifying the Environmental Triggers of MS