My name is Joanne Jones.
I'm a Consultant Immunologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
I also run an immunology research group at the University.
The aim of my talk is to give you an overview on the immunology of multiple sclerosis.
What is multiple sclerosis?
Well, multiple sclerosis can be best defined as
an auto-immune demyelinating disease of the central nervous system.
Autoimmune refers to the fact that it's caused by
the patient's own immune system mistakenly attacking cell.
In particular, what the immune system attacks in
multiple sclerosis is myelin, which is a fatty substance that
surrounds the axons of nerves protecting them
and enabling them to conduct electrical impulses efficiently.
When we talk to patients about multiple sclerosis,
what it is and what myelin is,
it's often helpful to ask them to think of it as being similar to
the protective plastic outer coating of
electrical wires where the wire is equivalent to the axon.
In multiple sclerosis, protective coating is
damaged and the myelin is stripped from the nerve.
In other words the nerves become demyelinated.
Myelin is produced by oligodendrocytes which is specialized cells
within the central nervous system and by that I mean the brain and the spinal cord.
MS affects approximately 2.5 million people worldwide.
It's a major cause of disability in young adults particularly women,
as women are affected three times more commonly than men.
It also has significant personal and socioeconomic costs
as the average age of onset is 30 years.
Approximately 25 years after diagnosis,
50 percent of individuals require permanent use of a wheelchair.
It's a very serious and life altering condition.