Rx Magazine logoA Calgary neurologist fights the good fight against MS
by Kate Zimmerman for RX Magazine

Multiple sclerosis has a nemesis in Dr. Luanne Metz.

The neurologist who is also director of the Calgary MS Clinic has dedicated her career to researching ways to treat and mitigate the effects of the mysterious and debilitating disease. She’d wipe it out completely if she could.

The proof? Metz has a 25-page curriculum vitae listing research projects, awards, clinical trials, seminars, presentations, and national and international committees in which the acronym MS dominates. “My academic interests all relate to MS,” she states simply in her professional biography.

Less simple is the reason that she was drawn to MS research when she was still a resident. Metz thinks it was probably the dedication shown to the disease by one of her mentors, then-director of the Calgary MS clinic Dr. Peter Seland, that piqued her interest.

In addition, she says, when it came to MS patients, “I guess I identified with them.” For one thing, two to three times more MS patients are female than male. For another, in university Metz was about the same age as half of the patients who discover they have MS — under 30. “It’s a disease where the majority of people first begin between the ages of 20 and 40.”

Another intriguing aspect of MS was that in the late 1980s, when Metz was completing her neurology residency, there was plenty of room for improvement in the way MS sufferers were treated.

Fourteen years later, as a result of the kind of research she and her colleagues around the world have done, it’s better.

“We now have some drugs that affect the source of the disease,” says Metz, who also practices out of two hospitals. “We don’t have a cure. We can’t say that we put people on these drugs and we’re going to stop the disease. It appears that for many people their disease seems to be stopped for many years. They haven’t been around long enough to know how long that will last. But there’s much more in the way of hope ….”

Medical breakthroughs are always the result of numerous people coming up with bits of valuable information, says Metz. Her own imagination has been stimulated by the discovery of the neural stem cell by the University of Calgary’s Dr. Sam Weiss, which shows the potential of regeneration of the nervous system. “That’s something that is tremendously exciting and has led, and will continue to lead, to a great deal of exciting research in the area of MS.”

Also, Metz notes, Dr. Wee Yong at U of C has been working with a group of enzymes involved in remodelling the tissues in the body that may prove useful. Elsewhere in Canada, Dr. Mark Freedman in Ottawa is investigating whether stem cell transplantation can reconstitute the immune system. “So there’s a lot of good work going on.”

Drugs to help treat the active relapsing, remitting form of MS have also become available over the past 10 years, says Metz, with interferon beta (like Rebif, which comes in pre-filled syringes) and Betaseron now available to patients. “They’re to decrease the activity of the disease so that a person would have fewer disease exacerbations.”

There are chemical drugs being developed and tested, although they are in the experimental stage, she says, and also groups of drugs called biologics that perform functions like making antibodies. Antegren, for instance, blocks the inflammatory immune cells from sticking in the blood vessels in the brain. There are also many drugs now that help treat MS symptoms like fatigue and spasticity.

As for a cure, that’s one goal, but it’s not the sole thrust of multiple sclerosis research. “We want to make a difference in many ways and attack this problem from many angles,” Metz explains, “rather than just going in one straight direction that we think, possibly wrongly, is the way to go to find a cure.”

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