Multiple sclerosis sufferers have been given hope of a targeted, effective treatment thanks to a landmark discovery by researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).
The researchers have highlighted the potentially critical importance of a specific immune molecule in the development of auto-immune diseases such as MS and even rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
The molecule identified, dubbed IL-17, is now expected to play a central role in the development of targeted treatments for the diseases.
A research team under experimental immunology expert Professor Kingston Mills and Dr Aoife McGinley, both of TCD's Biochemistry and Immunology School, has published its ground-breaking findings in the science journal 'Immunity'.
MS affects almost 10,000 people in Ireland and around 2.3 million people globally.
It is an auto-immune disease caused by the infiltration of immune cells into the brain and spinal cord, thereby causing nerve damage.
The TCD research team found that immune 'T' cells, which secrete the immune molecule called IL-17, play a key role in the damage to the myelin sheath, or nerve covering, which is central to multiple sclerosis.
Early clinical trials with antibody-based drugs which block IL-17 are showing promise in the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS.
"Our team found that IL-17 plays a critical 'priming' role in kick-starting the disease, causing immune response that mediates the damage," Prof Mills said.
Dr McGinley said the main aspect of their trial is that drugs which target IL-17 can offer significant benefits for treatment.