To doctors at the MSU Clinical Center, multiple sclerosis research isnt all about tests and trials - its about the patients.
Dr. Eric Eggenberger, an MSU associate professor of neurology and opthalmology, has worked throughout his career to find and use new treatments for the disease, but also to make it easier for those afflicted by MS.
Multiple sclerosis is a very common disease, Eggenberger said. Many people know someone who has it.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 350,000 people in the United States are reported to have MS and 8,000 new cases are reported each year.
MS is a disease that traditionally hits young people and women. Diagnosis typically ranges between 20 and 40 years of age, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The disease, which affects the central nervous system, is thought to be caused by the bodys own immune system.
White blood cells attack the nerves in the brain, which in turn, interfere with the brains ability to communicate with the body. These factors lead to attacks that create vision problems and a loss of strength and coordination in the limbs.
The effects of the disease are variable from patient to patient, Eggenberger said.
As patients go through time these problems build on each other, he said. Its so hard for people to cope with because MS is so unpredictable.
You cant tell when an attack will happen.
In the past, doctors have used steroids to shorten the length of attacks. However, after one attack, there was nothing physicians could do to reduce the chances of having another, Eggenberger said.
In an attempt to become more proactive in treating MS, the Food and Drug Administration approved three new drugs between 1993 and 1996.
Avonex, Betaseron and Copaxone, the ABC drugs, have been commonly used since their inception to treat MS. Although the treatments cut down the chance of a relapse by one-third, they all require injections - either weekly, daily or every other day.
Doozie Snider, a clinical research associate, coordinates trials for clinical experiments, which take place at MSU as well as 14 other research universities across the country.
I see the patients every three months, Snider said. I get to know them, their lives and how the disease is affecting them.
Clinical Center physicians at MSU see about 500 MS patients each year.
And the trials are a part of two nationwide studies to collect data concerning MS patients.
The overall goal is coming up with more tolerable ways of fighting this disease.
In the not-too-distant future, clinical scientists hope to find new ways of treating patients with the ABC drugs that are more tolerable than injections, Eggenberger said.
But the research wont end there.
Ultimately we hope these studies will lead to a cure, he said. Right now we have a treatment, but what we really want is to find a cure.
David Kaufman, chairperson for the Department of Neurology and Opthalmology, said Eggenbergers work goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Dr. Eggenberger is a national expert in MS and particularly the way it affects vision, he said.
Eggenberger has participated in multicenter trials funded by the National Institutes of Health and speaks internationally on topics related to MS and neuro-opthalmology, Kaufman said.
Eric started his career at MSU as an undergraduate and a varsity wrestler, he said. For him to come back and contribute so much to the MSU scientific community is a fantastic story.