Special events in April
Cholesterol drug holds hope
to increase awareness
of multiple sclerosis
By Helen Altonn
Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Mike Dugan says he's impressed that Gov. Linda Lingle declared April Multiple Sclerosis Month in Hawaii.
Dugan is president and chief executive officer of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
"We don't get those very frequently on the mainland," he said. "It helps to have a small population where people know each other by name and place and people aren't just another statistic."
Speaking at a reception by the society's Hawaii Division on Tuesday night, Dugan described how his national force of about 800,000 volunteers and staff is trying to fight multiple sclerosis.
More than 400,000 Americans, including about 700 in Hawaii, have been diagnosed with MS, a chronic disease of the central nervous system.
Dugan said the MS Society invested more than $30 million last year and will invest another $30 million this year to improve care of MS patients and restore function.
In a later interview, he said the National Institutes of Health also is investing $90 million to $100 million for MS research at various academic institutions and another $10 million is being spent on clinical trials and research.
The national society has established three new research centers to try to speed the search for the cause and cure of the disease, he said.
The Collaborative MS Research Awards will add $2.48 million to the society's commitments to more than 300 research projects totaling about $50 million.
Dr. James F. Pierce, chairman of the Hawaii division's clinical advisory committee, said the new centers "have the potential to increase MS research progress exponentially.
He said the number of people afflicted with MS is growing because of a population increase and a better understanding of the disease, allowing earlier diagnosis.
"And the whole population is living longer -- even people with MS are not dying of heart disease and we're taking care of infections we were not able to take care of 20 to 30 years ago."
Special MS events to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for the Hawaii Division include:
>> The annual MS Walk on Oahu at Ala Moana Park, held yesterday.
>> April 12: Dr. Leo Maher will speak on Symptom Management and Treatment Options at a society-sponsored educational meeting for people with MS, families and friends at the Maui Beach Hotel in Kahului.
>> April 30: The MS Dinner of Champions at the Hilton Hawaiian Village will honor Finance Factors Ltd. with the MS Hope Award for contributions and humanitarian efforts to communities statewide. Russell Lau, chief executive officer of Finance Factors, will accept the award. David Shapiro will be guest speaker.
>> May 3: An MS walk is scheduled at the Kukui Grove Shopping Center, Lihue, with registration at 7 a.m. and the walk starting at 7:30 a.m.
>> May 10: An MS walk will be held at the Boys & Girls Club of Maui, Kapiolani Park, Wailuku. Registration is at 7 a.m., with the walk at 7:30 a.m.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
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Cholesterol drug holds
MS treatment hope
A clinical study indicates a drug used to lower cholesterol may hold promise for treating some symptoms of multiple sclerosis in humans, researchers have announced.
Scientists already have shown a class of drugs called statins improved and even reversed some of the debilitating symptoms of the disease in mice.
The small clinical trial on humans, which started in December 2000, evaluated simvastatin, sold as Zocor, on patients with relapsing-remitting MS, the most common type of the disease.
The results of the trials, conducted in three states, were presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Honolulu.
Scientists measured the change in numbers of active brain lesions associated with multiple sclerosis in 28 patients who received the treatment, said Dr. Lyndon Key, chairman of the Pediatrics Department at the Medical University of South Carolina. He designed the study with Inderjit Singh, a basic science investigator at MUSC, and Dr. Timothy Vollmer of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.
In the trial, 23 patients showed a decrease in the number of lesions with treatment, while two showed an increase and three had no change, according to the study.
"Not only were the results positive, but we used a drug that is used safely by millions of people," Key said.
William Tyor, the principal investigator and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, cautioned the findings are preliminary.
"It would be premature to suggest that everyone with MS should begin taking this drug," he said.
The trial, conducted with a grant from Merck and Co., had a limited number of participants and all received the treatment. Future research requires tests with a much larger group with some participants receiving a placebo, scientists say.
MS is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. High levels of one of the body's immune chemicals, gamma interferon, activate T-helper cells to mount an inflammatory attack on the myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibers.
Accumulating scar tissue slows the transmission of nerve impulses and interrupts cell communication, leading to episodes of paralysis, tremors and blurry vision.
American Academy of Neurology