Saturday, October 28, 2000
By Joe Humphreys
Dublin's Beaumont Hospital will host a gathering of some of the world's leading experts on multiple sclerosis research next month, amid fears the condition is on the increase.
Dr Hugh Staunton of the hospital's department of clinical neurological sciences said four to five new cases of MS were being diagnosed in the State each week.
"After epilepsy," he said, it was "the commonest neurological condition affecting young people".
There are now an estimated 6,000 MS patients in the State, with women outnumbering men by a ratio of 3:2. According to figures from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland, between 200 and 250 new diagnoses are being made annually, predominantly among young people aged between 20 and 40 years.
A cure has yet to be found and, as a result, said Dr Staunton "it is very important that support is available for international research". He said MS "strikes young people at a vulnerable time in their lives and the effects on families can be enormous."
Dr Staunton has been researching the behaviour of MS with a colleague at Beaumont Hospital, Dr Francesca M. Brett, and they have collaborated with researchers in New York and San Diego. Dr Brett said: "It now seems that no single cause will be found for MS. In the circumstances, it is important to know early on what is happening in the brain and spinal cord where the disease occurs. This understanding of early events will hopefully lead to effective therapeutic interventions."
Symptoms of the condition can include shaking hands, staggering or loss of balance, loss of bladder or bowel control, speech difficulties and blurred or double vision. Despite these ailments, most MS sufferers can expect near normal lifespans and three out of every four remain active and can cope with daily needs.
At least 80 Irish specialists are due to attend the conference, which
takes place at Jury's Hotel, Ballsbridge on November 10th next. The international
speakers are Dr Brian G. Weinshenker, Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, USA; Dr Massimo
Filippi, University of Milan, Italy; Dr William F. Hickey, Dartmouth Medical
School, New Hampshire, USA; Prof David Miller, National Hospital for Neurology
and Neurosurgery, London; and Dr Basil Sharrack, Central Sheffield University