BOX Physician discusses latest multiple sclerosis research

By Jeff Hansel

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Dr. Daniel Lachance seemed a little taken aback when he arrived at the Holiday Inn of Austin.

The Mayo Clinic neurologist expected an audience of locals. But some in attendance had traveled great distances. Nearly everyone in the room had multiple sclerosis, an illness causing the nervous system to malfunction.

Each person at the Tuesday evening MS Society presentation came with a different perspective, just as MS affects each family differently. Some could stand with ease, others struggled with balance or were unable to stand. Yet all shared a common bond of understanding.


Some were recently diagnosed and others have lived with MS many years. Early symptoms of relapsing-remitting MS can include numbness and tingling, Lachances said. Later, symptoms such as exhaustion, bladder trouble and depression can occur. The type of MS and how it affects the nerves determines symptom severity.

"Somehow, in a process we don’t fully understand, the body turns on itself," Lachance said. "The immune system attacks part of the nervous system."

About 350,000 people in the U.S. have M.S., Lachance said, noting that’s a conservative estimate.

Oddly, the farther away from the equator a population exists, the higher the prevalence of MS becomes. The illness strips the protective myelin sheath that surrounds the body’s nerves and damages nerves inside, Lachance said. The disease could be caused by something in a person’s genes, something in the environment, an infection, a combination of factors or some as-yet undiscovered trigger.

"The truth is, we really don’t know," said Lachance, a consultant in Mayo’s Department of Neurology and Neuroimmunology.

All of the medications currently on the market focus on treating the relapsing/remitting form. Whether the drugs work for "progressive" MS, where symptoms blur together, remains unknown because they haven’t been on the market long enough.

What’s the focus of research these days?

"Antibodies are kind of the theme of some of the things that are currently going on in MS," Lachance said.


John Linn of Brainerd, an advocate for newly diagnosed patients, said as a patient "you have to be careful what you read, because you can read ‘good’ stories about just about anything you want to read." But that doesn’t mean the featured therapy is actually beneficial.

Linn encourages people with MS to smile, keep active and stay as healthy as possible. Audience member Jim Rysavy of Austin agreed. He went to Alaska last year and plans to visit Rocky Mountain National Park this year.

"I know what it’s like to have this disease that’s so crippling," Rysavy said. "But don’t lay there and feel sorry for yourself."

2007 research report

  • Several large trials began, including one to test a drug to protect the brain and spinal cord from MS damage.
  • A large study suggested disease-modifying MS drugs are effective in delaying disability progression.
  • A company-supported study showed Copaxone reduced the risk of developing MS and delayed development in people with "clinically isolated syndrome" (a first event suggestive of MS).

Source: National Multiple Sclerosis Society
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