The Multiple Sclerosis Eye Center for Analysis, Research and Education (MS Eye CARE), which is the result of a partnership between the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) and the University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO), is celebrating 10 years having received around 1,000 patients every year. MS Eye CARE has contributed to establishing eye care as part of the MS diagnosis and therapy.“When we first opened, research on new drugs and tests for how to predict eye issues in MS were just coming out,” said the co-director of the clinic Dr. Rosa Tang in a news release. “These discoveries brought to light that the eye is the window to MS. We were at the forefront of that development because we had the equipment that many other centers didn’t have.”
MS is a progressive, disabling, immune-mediated disorder in which the person’s own immune system attacks the central nervous system, namely the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The first clinical signs of MS are often manifested in the eyes, with 50 to 75% of the patients experiencing vision complications; eye care professionals are therefore at the forefront of defense against MS. 300,000 to 400,000 people in the United States are estimated to have MS, with around 200 new diagnoses being made every week. In Texas, MS prevalence is estimated to be approximately 100 cases per 100,000 individuals based on NMSS data.
[adrotate group=”15″]“MS is a criterion of how many parts of your nervous system are involved, so oftentimes neurologists need us to make that final diagnosis,” said Dr. Tang. “The eyes are the window of MS because the optic nerve is a target, and we can look at it with a variety of eye tests we have. While neurologists have tools to diagnose MS, the disease can be identified more quickly if the eye is also incorporated into the diagnostic process.”
The eyes have become part of the MS diagnostic process, and the interaction between neuro-ophthalmologists and neurologists to obtain an early MS diagnosis has allowed physicians to intervene prior to significant damage to the central nervous system of the patient improving their quality of life. This collaboration between neurologists and eye care professionals has also improved the prognosis for MS patients.
At the MS Eye CARE center, clinicians perform a close monitoring of MS disease in their patients. Assessment of the optic nerve allows physicians to determine whether patients are responding to medication, whether a change in treatment is needed and even to exclude initial misdiagnoses of MS.
One of Dr. Tang’s main goals is to provide patients with the required care independently of their financial situation, with most patients being seen in the week they call to make a doctor appointment. The MS Eye CARE center also has a humanitarian component with quality of life questionnaires to assess how MS and MS treatment impacts patients abilities and lifestyles. The center is also dedicated to community service where apart from eye tests and patient monitoring, the staff collaborates with MS patients’ caregivers and social workers aiding on a variety of services.
According to Dr. Tang, another main goal of the center is to perform research and test new drugs. In its 10 years of existence, numerous studies have been conducted from both a clinical and basic research perspective, resulting in several published articles and Ph.D. theses.
“The next 10 years are even more exciting, because now there are new drugs and new ways we’re moving toward a cure for MS,” concluded Dr. Tang. “The exciting part is that most of these new drugs coming down the pike to treat MS and stop it in its tracks from continuing are basing their clinical research on the eyes. As a result of what we have accomplished here, the eye is now more likely to be viewed in the diagnostic process.”