PrevANZ Findings

On 6th June 2011 the Foundation was pleased to announce we had joined forces with the MS Society Western Australia to provide vital funding to initiate a world-first clinical trial of Vitamin D for the prevention of MS. This Project could not have proceeded without the contributions of the Trish Foundation and the MS Society of WA and was to be the first in the world with the power to prove that Vitamin D is a safe and effective method for preventing MS.

At the time, the Executive Director of MS Research Australia, Jeremy Wright (who is now a Board member of the Trish Foundation) said, “The Trish Foundation was the first to recognize how important it is to test this Vitamin D intervention and to see if it can save the onset of MS. Their support is inspired and to be applauded.”

There had long been interest in the possible benefits of vitamin D supplements for those living with MS and whether they can be used to prevent the development of MS. That is because the risk of developing MS can vary depending on latitude, with those living furthest from the equator more likely to be affected by the disease. In Australia, those living in the north of the country are less likely to develop MS than those in the south.

It has long been hypothesised that this is brought on by a lack of sunlight, which could potentially lower vitamin D levels. To test this hypothesis, MS Research Australia, with support from the Trish Foundation and MS Western Australia, established the world’s first clinical trial involving 204 people from Australia and New Zealand.  A small, highly dedicated team worked for many years on this study, to establish the potential benefit of oral vitamin D supplementation to prevent new MS disease activity in people who had just had their first attack of MS. Each person taking part in the trial was then randomised to one of three different daily doses of vitamin D (1000 IU (international units), 5000 IU or 10000 IU), or a placebo (no vitamin D). Vitamin D was used as a standalone therapy – the participants were not on other disease-modifying drugs for their MS.

“Vitamin D supplements do not prevent the development of Multiple Sclerosis.” That is the finding from PrevANZ, the ground-breaking clinical trial to determine if oral vitamin D supplements can delay the onset of MS.

Professor Helmut Butzkueven, Chair of the PrevANZ Steering Committee said the participants were then followed for 48 weeks to determine whether they went on to develop MS.

“We showed conclusively that doses of up to 10,000 international units per day did not reduce MS activity compared to those who did not take vitamin D,” Professor Butzkueven said.

Professor Bruce Taylor, also from the PrevANZ Steering Committee, understands this might be seen as a disappointing result, but says it is a very important one.

“We are now eagerly awaiting the results of D-LAY MS, a French study with very similar design.

“On behalf of the entire study team, we wish to thank all the study participants and investigators for their participation and dedication over so many years”, Professor Taylor said.

Further research is underway to understand more about the effects of vitamin D on the immune system and nervous system in this group. More work is needed to uncover the mechanisms underpinning the role of latitude and sunshine in the risk of developing MS.