A Christchurch neurologist is leading part of the world’s first clinical trial into whether oral vitamin D may prevent multiple sclerosis (MS). The trial is being conducted in both Australia and New Zealand and will include 240 people with early MS. Dr Deborah Mason will oversee the New Zealanders taking part in the study while Professor Bruce Taylor, a former Christchurch neurologist now based in Hobart, Australia, is one of the principal researchers heading the trial in Australia. Dr Mason says MS prevalence in New Zealand is high compared to many other parts of the world and appears to be increasing particularly in females. Researchers believe New Zealanders may be particularly susceptible to MS because of our low latitude which results in low levels of vitamin D. "This is particularly true for people living in Canterbury, Otago and Southland. We are uniquely placed to perform this research here and it has particular relevance given our high MS rates," Dr Mason says. "It will be the world’s first randomised controlled interventional study using vitamin D in people with MS to see how it might influence this disease." MS Research Australia has pledged $3.5 million towards the study. "This trial may not only find a very modestly priced treatment for early MS it may also give us a lot of information about the effect of vitamin D on MS and may be a precursor to intervention in at risk groups prior to developing disease. It also has synergies with other research being done in NZ in children and others as vitamin D is currently a hot topic of research." Dr Mason says the timing of the study has also worked in perfectly as it correlates with other research she has been doing including the NZ MS Incidence Study for the MS Society. "The society’s study has focused on developing a database of people with MS and has provided the platform to approach suitable candidates to invite them into the vitamin D study, which is scheduled to begin in January," she says. Dr Mason says MS can be extremely debilitating and affects more women than men. "Often in their 20s or 30s during what typically should be the most productive years of their lives," Dr Mason says. "Other research has found 92 percent of people with MS have a strong work history but within five years of developing the disease up to 50 percent are no longer working." Dr Mason is a consultant neurologist with Canterbury District Health Board based in Christchurch Hospital’s Neurology Department.
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