A couple with arms around each other in support

One of the Best Things a Support Partner Can Give to a Patient

The role of a support partner to one suffering from a chronic condition such as MS is multi-faceted. Whether the patient suffers from relapsing-remitting or a more debilitating form of MS, one needs to assist with many physical tasks.

The disease takes an emotional toll as well. Support partners need to listen to the patient and, in the case of a loved one, give some hugs at the right time. But the most important gift we can give to MS patients is hope.

Hope which springs eternal

I am not an optimist by nature, but when my soon-to-be wife was diagnosed with MS more than three decades ago, I was optimistic that science would develop effective MS medications. There was no objective reason to be hopeful.

Perhaps I was inspired by a memorable line from Ernest L. Thayer’s classic poem, Casey at the Bat. As the baseball game is slipping away from the home team with two outs in the ninth, Thayer wrote:

"A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast
They thought, "If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We'd put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”

Mighty Casey did ultimately come to bat. He struck out, but the MS researchers did not. They knocked it out of the park.

We can only go up from here

Once researchers found one pathway to suppress the immune system, it opened up the floodgates for a total of 23 FDA-approved disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) for MS. Long gone are the days of considering bee-sting therapy and all kinds of unproven tactics to curb the immune system. But even with so many good choices, we have yet to reach the Promised Land.

Scientists do not know what causes MS. Without this knowledge, finding a cure will continue to be highly challenging. But there is so much hope because we are getting closer to a way to reverse the most egregious effects of MS.

A major cause for optimism is the effort to remyelinate MS patients. MS destroys myelin, the fatty protein that protects our nerves and allows the transmission of messages between nerves. Researchers are taking different approaches to find ways to restore myelin, which would reverse many of the effects of MS.

This is probably going to happen; maybe not next month or next year, but I am hopeful it is around the bend.

Finding hope in research

A promising way to restore this critical fatty protein is through adult stem cells. These cells, found in tissue such as fat and skin, have the potential to develop into different cell types that could regulate the immune system.

The FDA has authorized a non-profit organization to commence a Phase 2 clinical trial to determine if certain adult stem cells are effective in treating the symptoms of mild to moderate MS. In the proposed trial, 24 patients would receive six adult stem cell infusions over 32 weeks.

If adult stem cell therapy proves effective, it will be a win-win for MS patients. Stem cells have the potential to go above and beyond current DMTs - with far fewer side effects than immunosuppressant drugs. There is still much work to be done, but one must have hope.

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