MS Symposium Presented by Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center Draws Hundreds Seeking Information and Hope
Patient education event covers latest scientific studies, symptom management, and new treatment guidelines.
Nearly 400 people living with MS and their loved ones filled Stern Auditorium on October 18, 2009 to attend the first day-long educational symposium presented by the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for MS at Mount Sinai.
The free event, "Changing the Future: New Trends in Multiple Sclerosis Research and Treatment," brought together eight highly-accomplished experts in various aspects of MS research and treatment for a series of talks that covered the spectrum from scientific studies, to practical guidelines, to inspirational messages. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society-New York City Chapter was a co-sponsor and participant in the event.
Program director Aaron Miller, MD, who is also Medical Director of the CGD Center, considers this the first of what may become an annual symposium to bring straightforward, up-to-the-minute information to those who are most eager for advances in MS treatment.
"This program, the first of what we hope will be an annual event, had two main goals," he said. "The first was to empower persons with MS by providing them with greater understanding of the illness. The second was to inspire hope by highlighting exciting recent developments in both basic research and clinical therapeutics that encourage a very optimistic viewpoint for many affected by MS. It was gratifying to see such a large audience, whose enthusiastic comments reflect our achievement of those goals," Dr. Miller said.
Patients and caregivers filled Stern Auditorium at Mount Sinai to learn more about the latest advances in MS research and current thinking behind recent treatment protocols. The faculty of the CGD Center were joined by guests James Salzer, MD, PhD, a biomedical scientist from NYU Langone Medical Center, and Wendy Booker, a marathoner, mountain climber and MS patient.
Tracy DeAngelis, MD, attending physician at the CGD Center, started off the symposium with an overview of the immune system and the mechanisms by which autoimmune processes can damage the nervous system in people with MS. She discussed the roles of lymphocytes, cytokines, and antibodies in the pathogenesis of MS, and how all of these are current and future targets of MS treatments designed to slow, and ultimately stop the disease.
Stephen Krieger, MD and Jennifer Decker Reardon, ANP-BC, MSCN, both on the faculty of the CGD Center, co-presented an introduction to "MS Mythbusters," where they examined pervasive myths and misconceptions about MS including vaccinations (concluding that they are generally safe for MS patients, especially the flu vaccine), and diet (stating that a heart healthy diet with standard supplementation doses of Vitamin D are both recommended). They also stressed the importance of healthy skepticism when evaluating material about MS that can be found online, with Dr. Krieger mentioning the old adage "if it sounds too good to be true….someone's trying to sell you something."
Jennifer Finkel, MD, the CGD Center's faculty psychiatrist, then discussed emotional issues in the setting of a diagnosis of MS, with a particular focus on recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression. Dr. Finkel emphasized that being aware of and being comfortable talking about emotional issues is a vital part of successful treatment. And she strove to take the stigma off depression and anxiety, joking "I know about anxiety – I felt some just before coming onstage."
In a change of pace, Wendy Booker addressed the group mid-day with what many considered a uniquely inspiring message of courage. She has scaled the seven highest mountains of the world in seven continents, and next spring will attempt ‘to summit' the highest, Mount Everest, despite living with MS. For her, the challenge of the mountains is a metaphor for MS a challenge that all patients must face and conquer every day, no matter how seemingly small the achievement, or how impossible it may seem.
Guests were treated to a complimentary box lunch served in the vast atrium of the Mount Sinai Medical Center lobby, where they had a chance to socialize and catch-up with familiar faces before returning for the afternoon session. Many volunteers including medical students, CGD research coordinators and staff contributed their time to insure that all guests were comfortable and enjoyed the day.
Returning to the science behind MS, Fred D. Lublin, MD, Director of the CGD Center, began the afternoon session speaking about the process by which new drugs are developed for MS, and the meaning of "rational drug design." He highlighted the extraordinary advancements that have occurred since medications for MS were first approved in the early 1990's, and that MS has truly become a therapeutic field. He pointed out that there are currently at least a half-dozen drugs for MS in Phase III testing – the final stage before FDA approval -- with many more being explored.
James Salzer, MD, PhD, Co-director of the NYU Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence and Professor of Cell Biology and Neurology, lectured on cutting-edge aspects of MS therapeutics currently in development, and the science behind two great frontiers in MS research: neuroprotection, the ability to protect the nervous system from damage, and remyelination – the ability to re-build myelin that has already been damaged by MS. Through understanding and harnessing both of these techniques, the ultimate goal is to reverse the damage to the nervous system caused by MS and to restore its function.
Aliza Ben-Zacharia, ANP-BC, MSN, nurse practitioner at the Center, unraveled the "maze of MS symptoms" that people with MS commonly face, including fatigue, stress, pain bladder dysfunction, and many others. Her animated lecture, full of entertaining cartoons, was both lighthearted and informative, and was a highlight for many.
Aaron Miller, MD, Program Director of the symposium and Medical Director at the Center, gave the final talk of the symposium, entitled "Future Therapy: Are We Closer to Stopping MS?" Building on the scientific background outlined by Drs. DeAngelis and Salzer, and the drug-development pathway described by Dr. Lublin, Dr. Miller's talk highlighted the oral medications and IV infusions currently in late-stage testing for MS. He spoke about Cladribine and Fingolimod, two different oral disease-modifying therapies that have completed successful clinical trials, as well as Campath, a medication given by infusion for a few days a year that has also shown great promise. In addition, he reported that Fampridine-SR, an oral medication designed to help patients with MS walk better, is already under consideration by the FDA, and may be on the cusp of approval. Dr. Miller's talk emphasized how far we have come in the quest to stop MS, and how exciting a time this will be for all of us in the MS community as these future therapies become available.
If you missed the event, here's what some of the attendees had to say about the day's program:
"Excellent program! Learned so much more about MS today—thank you all!"
"There is good reason to hope for a better treatment for MS and a safe drug."
"Wonderful [patient] support and assistance by staff. It was great to see—appreciated by all."
"The conference was wonderful, with lots of new, good information."
"I'm leaving here today with so much more knowledge. Thank you."
The day's program would not have been possible were it not for the very generous support of six pharmaceutical companies which contributed educational grants to the project:
- Acorda Therapeutics
- Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals
- Biogen Idec
- EMD Serono
- Teva Neuroscience