Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center at Winthrop Looks Toward Future of Research, Treatment Options

January 15, 2014

Since the first treatment protocol for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) introduced back in 1993, great strides have been made in the treatment and management of the disease. At the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center at Winthrop-University Hospital, patients benefit from the hands-on care as well as the ongoing research and clinical trials that have led to major breakthroughs in new treatment options.

“More medications for MS are released and approved every year,” stated Malcolm Gottesman, MD, Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center and Chief of Neurology at Winthrop. “Over the years, the pace for conducting research has increased, leading to more effective treatments for our patients and a brighter outlook for the future.”

“We are very focused on research so that one day we can reverse the effects of the disease,” added Dr. Gottesman.

“Early diagnosis and treatment of MS is also one of the single most important factors in long term outcomes,” added Sharon Friedman-Urevich, Nurse Practitioner and Coordinator of the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Program.

MS is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. The exact cause of the disease is still unknown. What happens to the nerve cells of the body in a patient with MS can be likened to the deterioration or fraying of the protective insulation of an electrical cord. In the disease, healthy nerve cells, similarly covered with a protective insulation known as myelin, become damaged when there is a loss of myelin. This loss of the nerve’s protection, which insulates the nerves of the spinal cord, the brain and the optic nerve, slows down the nervous system and can cause it to malfunction.

Winthrop’s MS Treatment Center provides patients with comprehensive, expert medical attention combined with patient education and compassionate care. One of only three Centers on Long Island that are recognized by the Long Island Multiple Sclerosis Society, patients of Winthrop’s Center also have the opportunity to participate in clinical research trials of FDA-approved and experimental medications. Patients are closely monitored throughout the studies.

A Decade of Success

Research into new treatments have come a long way in only 10 years. Before 1993, physicians could only offer patients medications such as steroids to treat many of the symptoms of MS. Today, FDA approved medications such as Betaseron®, Avonex®, Copaxone®, Rebif® and Novantrone® have greatly improved the quality of life for those living with the disease.

The MS Treatment Center at Winthrop recently completed a pilot clinical trial of high dose interferon in the treatment of MS. Interferon is an immune system protein used to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis. The IDEAS trial (Interferon Dose Escalation and Assessment of Safety) studied 22 patients over the course of six months to evaluate the safety and tolerability of using twice the standard dose of interferon Beta 1b (Betaseron). The results of this preliminary trial were very favorable, with 90 percent of the patients able to achieve the target dose without serious side effects, while 82 percent were able to maintain the dose with no significant adverse effects.

What does this mean for the future of MS treatment? Because higher doses of interferon appear to be more effective in treating the symptoms of the disease such as weakness, numbness and other neurological problems, the fact that close to all of the patients were able to tolerate a double dose of the drug bodes well for the future.

The MS Treatment Center will also participate in the follow-up clinical trials known as the ABOVE and BEYOND trials, which will study the efficacy of double dose interferon, examining the effects of low versus high dose interferon on MS symptoms. The Center is now enrolling patients in the research studies that are being conducted on both a national and local level.

A Hand to Hold, An Ear to Listen

The superior medical care is complemented by emotional and psychosocial support provided by the Center’s highly trained nursing staff. The Center is also looking to add a staff social worker as well as support programs.