How vitamin D affects the immune system of people with MS

Professor Helmut Butzkueven

The University of Melbourne, VIC

| Causes and Prevention | Epidemiology | Genetics | Incubator | 2017 | Investigator Led Research |


A person’s risk of developing MS is determined by exposure to key environmental factors and the presence of genetic changes. The strongest environmental risk factor for MS is the latitudinal at which a person lives. In Australia for example, someone growing up in North Queensland is 7 times less likely to get MS than a person in Tasmania. It is thought that the lower exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and lower vitamin D levels at latitudes further from equator are driving the risk of developing MS.

Professor Butzkueven and his team are conducting one of the largest trials to establish if vitamin D supplements can be used to prevent MS in people that are at a high risk of developing the disease. The PrevANZ trial is focusing on using vitamin D supplementation to prevent a diagnosis of MS in people with symptoms that could be a first ever MS immune attack.  Although this very exciting study is important for establishing if high vitamin D can prevent the development of MS, this funding will extend this work to understand how vitamin D changes the immune system to prevent MS immune attacks.

The research team will compare the immune cells of participants in the PrevANZ trial, who will have taken vitamin D supplements or inactive tablets for 12 weeks. By comparing immune cells from the high dose vitamin D supplemented participants at baseline and 12 weeks and with those people who received inactive tablet, the researchers will be able to measure how vitamin D changes gene activity in immune cells. This will give us new clues about changes in immune cells that are important for preventing MS immune attacks.

Progress to Date

Blood samples to provide the DNA for this genetic research have all now been collected from the PrevANZ participants and processing has begun. Dr Butzkueven and his team have also refined the workflow and statistical analysis for this study.

This work is important as it will provide new clues about changes in immune cells that are driven by vitamin D in MS and a better understanding of how vitamin D may be able to prevent MS.

Updated: 31 March 2019

Updated: 15 January, 2017



Grant Awarded

  • Incubator Grant

Total Funding

  • $18,000


  • 3 years - starting 2017

Funding Partner

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How vitamin D affects the immune system of people with MS