Wednesday, November 10, 1999
By PETER M. WARREN, Times Staff Writer
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society will meet for a three-day conference in Anaheim beginning today, with the session highlighted by a Webcast of the latest scientific advances.
The national meeting is expected to draw more than 1,000 scientists, doctors, patients and activists who are either investigating or coping with the disease.
Included in the scientific presentations will be the Friday afternoon Webcast of the keynote research address, followed by an e-mail question-and-answer session. The idea is to make it accessible to the MS community around the world, said organizers. The Web cast session runs from 1:30 to 5 p.m.
Multiple sclerosis is a progressive autoimmune disease of the central nervous system in which the body's own chemical defenses destroy the myelin--the white fatty sheath that surrounds nerve cells in the brain, eye and spinal cord. Some 350,000 Americans have been diagnosed with MS. It is essentially a disease "of an over-muscled immune system," said Dr. Stanley van den Noort, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology at UC Irvine College of Medicine. Scientists believe it is most common among northern Europeans through genetic selection that allowed those with the most robust immune system to survive centuries of plague, diphtheria and other diseases.
The disease is cumulative, but after attacks the body can sometimes recover before the next incident occurs. Over the years, however, it can cause blindness, loss of muscle coordination and paralysis. It is not contagious, and about two-thirds of those afflicted remain ambulatory throughout their lifetimes, which are about 93% as long as those of the general population.
The conference will include workshops for patients and family members, as well as an art exhibit that presents the disease through the eyes of children who sometimes assume caregiver roles to parents with the disorder. The research address will be by Dr. Rhonda Voskuhl of UCLA, who is investigating the gender implications of MS. The disease afflicts more than twice as many women as men, though men often are more severely stricken. Curiously, pregnant women with MS commonly show improvement during the course of their pregnancy.
In addition to the research presentation by Dr. Voskuhl, other scientists and physicians participating in the Webcast will discuss the latest clinical treatments, which includes therapeutic injections that slow the advance of the disease. The Web address is www.nmss.org
The injections, which have side effects of fever and chills, "are reasonably effective," said Dr. van den Noort. The treatments--commonly with a type of interferon--slow the rate of attack by about 35% and reduce severity of attacks by 40% to 50%, and slow the accumulation of disability by about 35%, he said.
The problem is getting patients to take shots that have side effects
"to not get better but to stop from getting worse," he said.
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times