Tuesday, December 05, 2006

MS study: Silver lining in the cloud

It's disturbing enough that a four-year scientific study has verified a higher incidence of multiple sclerosis for Morrison than what is considered average. What's more disturbing is researchers with the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford do not know for sure why this is happening.

However, they have begun to eliminate possible causes, which is a cause for optimism.

For instance, it is encouraging that experts were unable to identify any environmental factors to explain why the risk for contracting the disease is elevated for Morrison area residents. In other words, you won't get multiple sclerosis by drinking the water, breathing the air and living on the land in and around the Whiteside County seat.

The study does indicate that women with a northern European background, such as Germany and the Netherlands, are more susceptible to contracting multiple sclerosis than the general population. With the community's strong Dutch and German roots, this could explain why Morrison has 21 confirmed cases of the disease or, according to experts, about 2 1/2 times the national average.

Some kind of genetic predisposition seems to be suggested by these results. According to researchers, 11 study participants had blood relatives who also were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

A suggestion by a study participant seems to have merit. She believes efforts must be intensified to create a registry for those who have the disease. This way, not only will family members have a better understanding of their potential risks, but researchers in the future may be able to use the information in new ways to pin down a cause.

It's a good idea for everyone to know their medical history, not just those from one community that has experienced a higher-than-usual incidence of a particular disease. We urge everyone to be more aware of their own family's medical history and use that information to manage their health. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. There are proactive steps that can be taken to prevent or cure certain ailments.

Unfortunately, multiple sclerosis isn't one of them. There is no cure at this point for the autoimmune disease that targets the body's nervous system, robbing a person of their muscle control, vision, balance and thinking ability.

That doesn't mean a cure will never be found. We congratulate researchers for the progress they have made so far. We urge them to continue pursuing not only the cause of multiple sclerosis but, more importantly, a cure.