University Of Washington Receives $3.5 Million In Federal Funds To Establish Multiple Sclerosis Research And Training Center

September 24, 1998

The University of Washington has received notification from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research that it will receive $3.5 million for a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Research and Training Center, renewable every five years.

"UW Medical Center has had a Multiple Sclerosis Clinic for 21 years and has a long record of research into MS," said Dr. George Kraft, professor of rehabilitation medicine, who will head the new center. "This grant will allow us to greatly expand our research into the optimum methods of treating people with MS."

Kraft noted the Northwest has a very high prevalence of MS, so it is appropriate that the new center be located in Seattle. The UW competed for the funding, which had been awarded for the past 15 years to Albert Einstein Medical College in New York.

UW Medical Center's MS Clinic currently treats more than 750 patients. With the new grant, 1,200 MS patients will be enrolled in various research studies proposed for the grant. They will be drawn from the five-state WWAMI region served by the UW School of Medicine (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho), as well as Hawaii.

A major goal, said Kraft, is to develop and evaluate various strategies for improving the care and functioning of people with MS. The researchers will investigate the benefits of early identification of the disease and prompt treatment of psychological distress, such as depression, and the effects of employment issues and aging on persons with MS. They will also investigate differences in the incidence of MS as influenced by people's ethnic, cultural, geographic and health care backgrounds.

The MS Clinic will be expanded, with the addition of patient counselors who provide increased access for patients, including telephone counseling. A menu of specific wellness activities will be developed to address some of the issues people face in managing their illness.

Kraft and his colleagues plan to utilize professional contacts with physicians throughout the WWAMI region, as well as Medcon, the UW's free consulting service for physicians, to allow patients to remain in their home communities for evaluation, rehabilitation and treatment.

The addition of patients from Hawaii is noteworthy, said Kraft, because of the much greater incidence of MS in temperate climates compared to incidence in the tropics. The incidence is about 150 cases per 100,000 population in Washington, versus just 58 per 100,000 in Florida.

"We know the prevalence is based not just on where you live, but on where you grew up," said Kraft. "MS is caused by something acquired during the first 15 years of life." The majority of MS cases in Hawaii, for example, are among Caucasians who moved there after childhood. Researchers think the disease is caused by environmental factors -- viral or bacterial assaults on the immune system -- combined with a receptive genetic background.

The MS Clinic and the new MS Research and Training Center are administered by the UW's Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, which was ranked second in the nation in the latest U.S. News & World Report hospital rankings.
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University of Washington

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