Switch on to MS - that's the message Pam St Clement and the Multiple Sclerosis Society are sending out for national MS Week from 14 to 21 April 2002.
The top TV star wants people to understand more about the devastating neurological disease which strikes 50 people in the UK every week and to help raise an extra £1 million to fund research and care.
"MS affects different people in different ways," says Pam. "Sometimes the symptoms are very obvious, like lack of mobility. Sometimes they're much less visible but just as distressing, like fatigue and incontinence. For some people attacks come and go. For others disability sets in quickly. It's one of the most unpredictable conditions, and one of the most cruel because it usually strikes in the prime of life".
An estimated 85,000 people in the UK have MS, but its impact extends much wider, to family, friends and colleagues. The Multiple Sclerosis Society is the nation-wide organisation aiming to make sure people affected by MS have the highest quality of care and support they need in their daily lives.
During MS Week, the Society is focusing special attention on the MRI scanner unit it funds at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, the first in the world totally dedicated to MS research. Building on investment of £7 million over the last 15 years, a new £2.5 million research programme aims to achieve earlier diagnosis and to target treatments more effectively.
The Society's commitment to research projects being undertaken at around 70 centres in the UK now stands at £13 million.
Another way to help research is by leaving body tissue to the MS Tissue Bank at London's Charing Cross Hospital. Nearly 2,000 people have done so since the Bank, which is also funded by the MS Society, was set up in 1998. Tissues have been provided to nearly 30 research projects across the world.
Further funding is helping to increase the number of MS specialist nurses in the UK. The MS Society Nurse Fund is a rolling five-year programme of recruiting and training nurses in places where people with MS have limited or no access to specialist services. More than 30 appointments have already been made.
The MS Society runs the national MS freephone helpline ? 0808 800 8000 - and a comprehensive information service including the website www.mssociety.org.uk from the MS National Centre in north London. It has 370 voluntarily-run local branches.
MS symptoms occur because of scarring to the myelin sheath, which normally protects the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord. This damage prevents nerve impulses reaching different parts of the body which then cease to function properly. Researchers believe a number of different factors are probably involved in causing the disease. These could include a virus combined with a deficiency in the body's immune system and something in the person's genetic make-up.