More MS news articles for December 2000

Multiple sclerosis clinic is now open

By Mary Ann Roser
American-Statesman Staff
Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Edward Fox became intrigued by the mysteries of multiple sclerosis when he was a researcher in the 1980s studying how the body fights disease.

That fascination led him to jump from earning a doctorate in immunology to becoming a medical doctor specializing in treating multiple sclerosis patients. Now, Fox and his colleagues at Central Texas Neurology Consultants have opened Travis and Williamson counties' first multiple sclerosis clinic.

Central Texas multiple sclerosis patients, as a result, have a single clinic to meet their needs -- just like their counterparts in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. The Multiple Sclerosis Clinic of Central Texas, which opened a few months ago, has two locations: at Round Rock Physicians Plaza and at Seton Northwest Health Plaza in Austin.

"It's an idea born of necessity," said Fox, the clinic's director. Treatment of the disease is advancing rapidly and it is now being diagnosed earlier, which means patients can benefit from new drug therapies. In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first four medicines that prevent symptoms from worsening.

"When I started here in 1992, there were no medications that were approved to prevent worsening of multiple sclerosis," Fox said. "That's how fast things have changed."

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that generally strikes young and middle-aged adults. The myelin sheaths that  protect the nerves and spinal cord are damaged, causing the nerve impulses to misfire. Symptoms can include an unsteady gait, shaky movements, extreme fatigue and problems with vision and speech. In the worst cases, paralysis or blindness can occur.

The cause of the disease is not known, but it is commonly believed that the immune system goes haywire and attacks the nervous system.

The Lone Star chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society said it is aware of 16,200 patients in Texas, but there are probably many others. In Central Texas, an estimated 1,200 people have the disease, the society said. Nationally, 350,000 people do.

Fox's clinic combines education, treatment and referrals to therapists and other professionals who work with patients. The clinic has a library of resources for patients. It also provides intravenous drug treatments -- something most doctors' offices do not do in-house, Fox said.

The newest IV drug treatment is Novantrone, an anti-cancer drug recently approved for advanced multiple-sclerosis patients. Given once every three months, Novantrone has been shown to limit the progression of the disease. Fox's clinic also gives patients IV steroids to reverse such problems as loss of vision in one eye or trouble walking. The steroids are administered as needed for flare-ups, and the clinic trains patients to do the procedure at home, cutting down on hospitalizations, Fox said.

He is among 14 physicians in the Texas Multiple Sclerosis Consortium, created to encourage collaboration among doctors treating the disease. The consortium will be doing drug trials next year, and Fox will be enrolling patients.

Phoebe Harbour, manager of client and community programs for the Lone Star chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said that although Fox is not the only area neurologist treating the disease, his clinic is a welcome addition.

"It enhances access and convenience," she said. Plus, "it's five days a week. A lot of multiple sclerosis clinics are one time a month."

The disease is complicated, and many patients call her office for help, Harbour says. They ask for referrals to neurologists. Newcomers want to know where the closest clinic is. Now, Harbour can tell them.

You may contact Mary Ann Roser at maroser@statesman.com or 445-3619.

To learn more

For information about the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic of Central Texas, call:
218-1222 in Round Rock or 338-5042 at Seton Northwest Health Plaza.