Improved treatments and new research is changing the lives of people with MS

Barry Singer, M.D.

BY PATRICIA CORRIGAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) and you have stopped your treatments because of side effects — or any other reason — Dr. Barry Singer wants you to know there are lots of treatment options now, worth another look.

A disease of the brain and spinal cord, MS causes the immune system to attack the myelin, a coating that covers nerve fibers. This causes communication problems between the brain and the body and can be seriously disabling. Most people diagnosed with MS are 20 to 40 years old. There is no cure. 

Still, Singer, 50, is enthusiastic about new treatments and current  research. The Center at Missouri Baptist is a designated National Multiple Sclerosis Society Affiliated Center for Comprehensive Care and the Center’s website (mslivingwell.org) reaches people with MS in more than 170 countries. He and his family are members of  Central Reform Congregation. 

Singer made time recently to talk about his work and helping people with MS live better. 

 

ADVERTISEMENT
Anat Cohen at The Sheldon

The Center opened in August 2008, and offers neurological care, nursing support, physical and occupational therapy, MRI imaging, infusion therapies and clinical trial options. Your goal is to help people with MS live well. How do you do that?

First is to control disease with medications — we can now prevent over 80 percent of the inflammation in the brain seen on MRI and reduce the risk of disability progression. Great comprehensive care to alleviate symptoms is an important goal. 

 

What else? 

We can help people improve mobility, build support networks, and guide home adaptations. For some patients, scooters or walking devices can allow people to live their lives more fully.

 

What is the best possible outcome? 

It’s rewarding that many patients who were diagnosed in their late 20s are now in their 40s and living with few or no disabilities. The people who have done the best got diagnosed early, got on treatment and have stuck with it. 

 

So an early diagnosis is key?

It’s critical to have a diagnosis as early as possible. Unfortunately, we see a lot of people with delayed diagnoses because symptoms of MS can mimic other conditions. 

 

What are some of the symptoms?

Loss of balance, vertigo, weakness, fatigue, numbness and changes in vision. 

 

Are there a lot of treatment options?

The first treatment became available in 1993, and now there are 12 medications on the market, nine of them injectibles and three of them oral treatments. I’ve been running clinical trials for over 20 years, and my center was the regional site for the trials leading to FDA approval of the first oral treatment. 

 

What else is new in MS treatments? 

We are running clinic trials on antibody therapies, and we’ve seen dramatic responses in reducing or preventing attacks of MS. We’re making tremendous progress. At Missouri Baptist Medical Center, we’re also trying to find ways to repair damage in early clinical trials. Ultimately, we are still striving toward a cure. 

 

You work with Dr. Mark Tullman, another St. Louisan who graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School as well.

Dr. Tullman is the Center’s director of clinical research. He was running the MS Center at Columbia University in New York City, and about four and a half years ago, I recruited him to join me here.

Who inspired you to become a neurologist?

My grandmother’s neurologist was Dr. Stuart Weiss, a hero in my family growing up.  Eventually, we became partners for almost a decade.

 

Did growing up Jewish influence your choice of a career?

Jewish values do emphasize the sanctity of life, the importance of each individual. That’s how I interact with each patient, in the hope that I can help improve their lives.

 

Send your suggestions for HealthWatch to [email protected] We focus on doctors, health care advocates, nurses, psychotherapists and counselors, researchers, fitness instructors, dietitians, physical therapists, and people meeting ambitious health and fitness goals.