More MS news articles for Sep 2001

Adam Sandler talks seriously about MS

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/spotlight/2001-09-21-sandler-ms.htm

09/21/2001 - Updated 03:01 PM ET
By Adele Slaughter, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Perhaps the last thing you expect from funnyman Adam Sandler is a serious side. But when it comes to Multiple Sclerosis (MS), he's learned the importance of being earnest.

Over the past five years Sandler has watched his 24-year-old cousin Jana Sandler cope with MS a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system.

"My cousin and our family feel very optimistic about a major breakthrough being found in the next few years," says Sandler. "Jana tells me there are breakthroughs happening all the time."

And the Sandler family is doing what they can to help the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) that supports research and programs for individuals who suffer from this chronic disease.

Sandler was joined last week by such superstars as Kevin Spacey, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Bill Pullman, Lin Shaye, David Hasselhoff, Young & the Restless star Don Diamont, and over 1,500 others who attended the 27th Annual Dinner of Champions in Los Angeles. The event honored Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman Jim Gianopulous for his help in the fight against MS.

"Tonight's event is a wonderful opportunity to do whatever you can do to beat this disease," says Gianopulous, "because there is hope for a cure and there are new treatments being discovered every day."

The event raised over $3.25 million and allows the NMSS to spend more money on MS research than any other voluntary health organization in the world.

MS basics

In the United States, at least 350,000 people suffer from MS. Although people of all ages can become afflicted with the disease, young people particularly women who grew up in northern latitudes are especially susceptible.

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most common diseases of the central nervous system. In a process called demyelination, cells and proteins that usually defend the body instead attack the myelin sheath protecting nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

"We now believe that MS not only attacks the myelin, but there's also an attack on the nerve fiber, the axon of the nerve," says Dr. Norman Kachuck, director of the MS Comprehensive Care Center of the Keck USC School of Medicine. "When the axon dies you end up with disability that is permanent. That axon may die because it no longer has the myelin sheath to protect it or might die as a result of being attacked."

What actually causes the immune system to destroy the central nervous system is a mystery. A viral infection in conjunction with an inherited genetic predisposition is the primary suspect.

"A person's immune response with MS looks like someone fighting a virus," says Kachuck. "We haven't found a virus though."

The impaired transmission of nerve impulses to muscles and other organs and can cause a variety of symptoms::

These not only vary from person to person but also can be different on any given day for each individual.

"Jana doesn't talk about her MS that much," says Sandler. "We even forget she has a disease. On occasion she has a tough time walking because her balance is off. Sometimes we're all screwing around and she has a difficult time keeping up and that really upsets her."

Since there is no laboratory test, symptom, or physical finding that positively affirms a person has MS doctors rely on a variety of indicators:

  • A sudden worsening of an MS symptom that lasts at least 24 hours
  • Damage to the myelin must have occurred more than once
  • An MRI magnetic resonance imaging to view the presence of scarring in the brain caused by MS
"When I was a senior in high school both my feet went numb," recalls Jana Sandler. "They wanted to do an MRI and we said forget it. The numbness ended up going away."

"Later, at 19, I was visiting Adam and at the airport I got really bad vertigo so once back at school I saw an ENT doctor because I figured it was my allergies by now I had complete double vision. He put me on 5 milligrams a day of prednisone and everything went away."

But not for long.

"As soon as he took me off the prednisone, everything came back worse my hand was tingly and numb," recalls Jana. "They told me it was either lupus, Lyme disease, or MS. The only person I knew with MS had the worse possible kind. She was confined to a wheelchair and couldn't feed herself. So, I was praying for Lyme disease."

A specialist in New York confirmed the diagnosis that Jana indeed had MS. Fortunately, she had the least severe form of the disease called relapsing-remitting MS.

MS ABCs

Three drugs, known as the ABCs, have been approved by the FDA for MS patients, says Kachuck. Avonex and Betaserone are based on the drug interferon, while Copaxone works in a different way. Avonex is the most popular, but Copaxone is gaining the most new users.

Avonex is an intramuscular injection that Jana says she takes twice a week now.

"I haven't tried Copaxone yet because I'm doing well with the Avonex," says Jana. "It definitely makes the episodes less severe and less frequent. The shots aren't so bad anymore because I've gotten used to it. Still, it's a hassle, and the anticipation doesn't get any easier, because it is an inch-long needle."

But there is growing hope that needles will soon be replaced by oral medications a development many MS sufferers would welcome.

"I would do anything for a pill," Jana jokes.

"The medicines we have are imperfect therapies," says Kachuck. "Most patients stabilize, they don't improve. The next step is going to be making them better."

According to Kachuck the next phase in treating MS patients is "add-on therapies," or supplemental medications that boost the effectiveness of a patient's primary treatment. The most popular add-on is a steroid called methylprednisolone (SoluMedrol).

"There is some evidence that methylprednisolone may improve control of the disease," says Kachuck. "It is a potent anti-inflammatory medicine, which alters the immune system and shuts down the blood brain barrier to further transport immune cells into the central nervous system."

"I just finished up a three-day IV steroid treatment," says Jana. "I took 1,000 milligrams a day of SoluMedrol, which is basically like prednisone, only harsher. It's such a high dosage that it kind of puts your whole system into shock. But it's like a miracle drug every time I do it."

And other miracles may be on the horizon.

The USC MS Comprehensive Care Center is testing the first MS vaccine, which is not meant to prevent MS, but to neutralize the immune response. Kachuck predicts the vaccine will stop the progressive nature of the disease.

Until a cure is found, Jana says she finds inspiration in her more famous cousin.

"Every time I start to doubt what I can do, I think of Adam. He's done everything he's ever wanted to do in life," says Jana.

"My family is very close and this has made us even closer. We spend a lot of time together and we're all pulling for her," says Adam. "It's good for her and good for us to all deal with it together. I know I take fewer things for granted now."

"I have been a little selfish and I'm sure I'll continue to be, but less so, because I see Jana having to deal with something out of her control. It makes me appreciate my health a lot more."
 

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