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A Promising New Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a drug whose clinical benefit in treating multiple sclerosis (MS) was discovered at Rush University Medical Center. The drug, dalfampridine, is the first oral medication for MS and the first FDA-approved therapy to treat impaired walking, a debilitating symptom of the disease.

With MS, the protective myelin sheath that wraps around nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord is damaged, essentially causing a short circuit of the normal electrical pulses. In the 1960s, Floyd Davis, MD, then a neurologist-in-training and later a physician at Rush, discovered that lower body temperature — even fractions of a degree — enabled the electrical pulse to continue its travel along the nerve fibers.

Davis conducted a series of studies over the next two decades to understand what was behind this noticeable improvement in symptoms. He then looked for a compound that could mimic some of the effects of lower body temperature and learned of dalfampridine, which was being used in Bulgaria to help patients recover from anesthesia-induced paralysis more quickly.

Dusan Stefoski, MD, director of the Rush Multiple Sclerosis Center, joined Davis' research team in 1978, and in a small study in 1983, they found that MS patients with impaired motor function and vision were able to walk and see better after a single intravenous dose of dalfampridine. Although the drug has been approved specifically to treat impaired walking, studies have shown it relieves other symptoms as well and works for all forms of MS.

NASA Technology May Make Radiation Therapy More Tolerable

Researchers at Rush and Argonne National Laboratory are collaborating on a study to determine if a state-of-the-art imaging technique used by NASA to detect defects in the space shuttle can be used to predict tissue damage in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.

Approximately 80 percent of breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy develop acute skin reactions that vary in severity; the more severe reactions cause discomfort and distress to the patient and can result in treatment interruptions. But these reactions are extremely difficult to predict.

That's why researchers at Rush and Argonne are looking at 3-D thermal tomography, which measures the thermal effusivity — a material’s ability to exchange heat with its surroundings — of skin tissue. Damaged skin cells have different effusivity values than healthy skin, and preliminary data show that decreases in the thermal effusivity of irradiated skin occur before severe skin reactions develop.

"If we could predict the earliest changes that trigger these reactions, we may be able to offer preventive treatment to minimize interruption of radiation therapy," says Katherine Griem, MD, a radiation oncologist at Rush and lead investigator in the study.

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