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Hollywood Fashions A Fight Against MS

Nancy Davis, Jon Lovitz & Teri Garr at the Dancing in Streets to Erase MS event.
(Photo credit: Silvia Mautner Photography)
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

When researchers finally find a cure for multiple sclerosis, there will undoubtedly be dancing in the streets. Last Friday night in Los Angeles, the Nancy Davis Foundation kicked up its heels to celebrate its 10 year commitment to helping find that cure.

"I feel really great, really amazing actually," says Davis, who founded the Race to Erase MS event after being diagnosed herself with MS.  "It's been ten years it's just unbelievable. I am so proud of the work our doctors are doing."

The Dancing in the Streets to Erase MS festivities and fashion show was co-chaired by Tommy Hilfiger with help from co-hosts Kelsey Grammer and Jane Leeves of Frasier.  Tom Arnold and Tony Danza assisted at the live auction attended by such Hollywood luminaries as X-Men's James Marsden, Fran Drescher, Teri Garr, Leeza Gibbons, Nancy O'Dell, Melanie Griffith and Penny Marshall.

"Everyone here knows someone who has been touched by MS in some way," Leeves notes. "I'm honored to be one of the hosts tonight because this is a wonderful event and an even more amazing organization."

"Nancy is incredible and she has advanced MS research like no one else on this planet," says Montel Williams, who also suffers from the disease. "MS is an every day struggle but I am in it to win it. I'm working out really hard. I stay on top of my medication and diet. I'm still snowboarding. I stay on top of staying on top of this disease."

And so are doctors at The Nancy Davis Center Without Walls.

The Center is a consortium of some of the world's leading MS researchers that benefits directly from the $2 million raised Friday night at the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa.

"All six of our doctors at the Center Without Walls have really made major progress in the last year," Davis reports. "There's so much news to be reported. We have three studies that are moving on the fast track. It's very exciting. For the person being diagnosed today the future is so much more positive - there are options, there are drugs and a wealth of knowledge that we didn't have when I was first diagnosed."

MS basics

MS is a chronic, debilitating disease of the neurological system that does not typically shorten a patient's life span, but affects their quality of life by progressively disabling them. As parts of the nervous system break down from inflammation and demyelination, nerve impulses short circuit, causing the following possible symptoms:

  • Difficulty walking
  • "Pins and needles" or numbness
  • Loss of vision, usually in one eye
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired balance

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), over 300,000 Americans suffer from MS. But two other polls suggest that as many as 1 million to 2.7 million Americans may have the disease.

While researchers have not determined what causes MS, doctors do know that:

  • MS diagnoses most often occur between the ages of 20 and 40.
  • MS occurs with greater frequency in Northern latitudes above the 37th parallel.
  • MS is more common among Caucasians.
  • MS affects women 2-3 times more than men.

"What has been incredibly important has been raising awareness about MS and dragging it up out of orphan disease status," Williams explains. "We went to Gallup and they will soon release data that confirms the fact that the disease is far more widespread than reported by the CDC. This is critically important because once MS is out of this orphan status we can get the right amount of funding and get it cured. I truly believe that if we put the emphasis on it that we should we can stop MS in five years.

And from perhaps an unlikely source - Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug.

Surprising news

"Millions take it every day to lower their cholesterol," Davis says. "Researchers discovered that Lipitor seems to be able to go into the cells of people with MS and turn off the mechanism that is causing the demyelination."

"In animal models of MS, Lipitor at an equivalent dose of 80 mg a day has been able to block the onset of disease and can stabilize the disease even after MS signs have begun," reports Dr. Stephen L. Hauser, chairman and professor, Department of Neurology, University California, San Francisco.

"We are seeing a paralysis of the inflammatory cascade that results in demyelination," Hauser adds. "We know Lipitor has this ability to turn off a very important gene involved in the MS inflammatory cycle. We subsequently learned from other studies that Lipitor can do other interesting things as well -- such as prevent cells of inflammation from getting into the brain. It might potentially promote repair as well but that is further down the road."

The NIH has now funded a large study to examine the effects of Lipitor in preventing the progression of a pre-MS condition into a clinical state of MS. And according to Hauser the study to be launched this fall "is a very exciting study."

But Hauser is cautiously optimistic, advising that this treatment is still 2-3 years away.

"And with high doses of Lipitor, we need to be careful about muscle, nerve and liver side effects," Hauser warns. "The muscle damage is something we feel is likely to be dose-related. A normal dose of Lipitor ranges 10-80mg a day. We are testing 80 mg a day. Muscle damage is our biggest concern. Obviously in someone with MS who has muscle imbalance or weakness the last thing we want to do is damage muscle or nerve. People with MS already have muscle weakness because the nerves to the muscle are injured. Injuring the muscle itself could be very problematic."

Hauser and the other doctors at the Center credit Davis' vision.

"I would say that Nancy Davis' foundation funding the seminal beginnings of this work they have played a major role in moving statin biology relevant to MS to the bedside," states Hauser, who hopes other statin drugs will also prove effective in combating MS.

"This evening is about hope," Leeves concludes. "There is hope because of the research that will be funded with the money raised tonight. Nancy has brought together the best doctors and they will find a cure for this disease."

"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think we weren't going to find a cure," says a smiling Davis.

• The Nancy Davis Foundation

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 5/16/2003  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

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