May 13, 2004
John Morgan and Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
For 13 years Hollywood philanthropist Nancy Davis has had multiple sclerosis. For 11 years she has spearheaded efforts to raise money to find a cure by founding the Center Without Walls. And while in September Davis is due to deliver twins, on May 14 her other "baby" will arrive.
"This is my 11th year co-chairing the Race to Erase MS, and I could not be more excited," says Davis, daughter of Hollywood mogul Marvin Davis. "I know we are making tremendous progress in finding better treatments that will eventually lead to a cure. There's no secret to what we do – we simply fund the best scientists we can find."
Davis has also found a wellspring of support in the Hollywood community.
Davis and Tommy Hilfiger will co-chair the GlamRock to Erase MS event which will be co-hosted by Ray Romano, Michael Chiklis, Bonnie Hunt, Molly Sims and Teri Garr. Funny guys Bill Maher, Tom Arnold and Tony Danza will work the audience of Hollywood luminaries during a live auction. Cyndi Lauper and David Lee Roth are scheduled to perform.
Last year's event raised more than $2 million dollars for research supported by the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis.
"We fund six centers around the country," Davis states. "When it comes to research they can never duplicate, but they must constantly communicate. There is so much research ongoing that it is very exciting (that) we can help."
In fact, so much research is being conducted that Davis says a seventh MS center will be added to the Center Without Walls. The new center will be announced at Friday's glamorous event.
But more research requires more money, and Davis hopes the public will support the Race to Erase MS by donating or helping in any way they can. She especially hopes more people with MS will attend the free MS Roundtable on the morning of May 15.
"The MS Roundtable is a panel of MS experts that report on the most cutting-edge research news available," Davis says. "There are going to be more and more alternatives for people with MS and that's important because MS is not one size fits all. Every person has a different experience with MS. We want people to ask questions. Just a little information can really help a person fine-tune their treatment."
MS is a chronic, debilitating neurological disease that affects about 400,000 Americans and as many as 2.5 million worldwide, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Inflammation and demyelination of nerve cells cause the transmission of neural signals to malfunction, leading to the following possible symptoms:
• Difficulty walking
• "Pins and needles" or numbness
• Loss of vision, usually in one eye
• Extreme fatigue
• Muscle weakness
• Impaired balance
After more than a decade living with the disease, Davis is no stranger to these symptoms. Yet she has effectively managed her MS without using the drugs typically prescribed to combat MS.
Instead Davis relies on homeopathic medicine.
"In the last four or five years, I've been doing amazingly well with my MS by using a more homeopathic approach," Davis states. "The ABC drugs are great for some people, and I'm glad we have them as options. But I don't take them. Many doctors argue with me about my decision. And just as many doctors ask me what it is I'm doing to stay so healthy."
Davis says she never smokes or drinks alcohol and exercises "almost every day." Most importantly she keeps her immune system strong by taking a lot of vitamins, including vitamin D and C, and Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic immune system booster.
"Oscillococcinum is my major drug of choice, and not everyone will agree with me because some people don't like homeopathic medicine," Davis says. "All I can say is that it is living proof that it has made my health 100% better."
Another reason Davis is feeling better is because she is pregnant.
"What is amazing is when you're pregnant the symptoms of MS go away," Davis says. "Unfortunately you still have the nausea and all the things that go with being pregnant."
Researchers are not exactly certain why pregnancy temporarily erases MS, but studies show clearly that the majority of pregnant women feel better and have fewer MS attacks.
One theory is that in a pregnancy, half the genetic information of the fetus is not from the mother. Since half that immunologic information is not the mother's, the developing fetus needs some protection, or it will be rejected because the body identifies any foreign proteins as antigens and attacks them.
"We think that during pregnancy the mother becomes immuno-incompetent to a degree so the baby is not rejected," explains Leslie Weiner, the Richard Angus Grant senior professor of neurology at USC's Keck School of Medicine. "In the first trimester the MS get shut down a little. In the middle trimester the MS is greatly improved and by the last trimester it is spectacular. The patient feels like all her symptoms are gone."
The major player in this pregnancy phenomenon may be the cytokine IL-10, a suppressive cytokine. During pregnancy, all the pro-inflammatory cytokines basically remain the same or are reduced. But the anti-inflammatory cytokines increase. Experts think this is may be a function of the placenta.
"We also think this is all related to the hormonal balance in the pregnant woman," says Weiner, who is also a professor of molecular biology and immunology and an adviser to the NMSS. "If the estrogen is raised to a certain level, you are probably going to produce this immuno-suppressive IL-10 phenomenon. The hormone that seems to be the most important in all this is estriol, which becomes elevated during pregnancy."
Estriol is currently being studied at several MS centers across the country.
"Quite clearly we are hoping to duplicate in the non-pregnant patient the conditions that induce this kind of anti-inflammatory state," Weiner notes. "The study of pregnancy and MS is a very big field right now, and we are hopeful about the ongoing research."
Davis is enjoying her pregnancy as well as her extra-fortified health. Most of all she is simply "thrilled" at the promise of becoming a mom.
"It's important for people with MS to know that the dream of having a child need not be taken away from you," Davis says. "It's not a genetic thing that you're going to give your child – there is a chance but it is a very slim chance – and being a mom is not something you have to give up."
Tickets for Friday night's GlamRock to Erase MS are still available.
Copyright © 2004, USA TODAY