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High MS rates in Upstate NY

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Buffalo: High MS rates in Upstate NY
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400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis. Effects range from vision and speech impairment to balance issues and permanent disabilities. As our Katie Gibas reports, Upstate New York has some of the highest MS rates in the country.

Brenda Irving has been living with multiple sclerosis since she was 23. Susan Peck was diagnosed 11 years ago. For both women, it was a scary and sudden onset.

"I was on vacation with my husband and my mom and dad, and we were just enjoying the vacation and I woke up blind," said Brenda Irving, who has multiple sclerosis.

Susan Peck, who also has multiple sclerosis added, "I woke up one morning and my entire right side was numb, my arm was numb and tingly."

400,000 Americans have MS. Effects range from vision and speech impairment to balance issues and permanent disabilities.

"It feels like a leg or a foot might not work. It changes each day. I say put your best forward, no matter what stage of MS you have, and each hour, that might be a different foot," said Irving.

Peck added, "All of a sudden, it's like I can't handle the distractions. I can't handle the multitasking, forget it."

Upstate New York has some of the highest rates of MS in the country - about twice the national average. Doctors can't point to one thing in particular that causes MS. It's partially genetic. But environmental factors such as infection or vitamin D deficiency are believed to trigger MS.

"I think it helps just because we know where to focus our research. And right now, we're focusing on vitamin D and what that could mean and what we could do to try to help that," said Nikki Bomasuto, a Campaign Manager for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Phase one of multiple sclerosis consists occasional flareups, that are usually relatively short-lived. There are several medications to help lessen the effects. But in stage two, the effects are long-lasting.

"People who are in secondary progressive phase are slowly getting worse. They know they're getting worse. And they can't stop it," said Dr. Burk Jubelt, Professor of Neurology at Upstate Medical University.

The nerves run through insulation called myelin. With multiple sclerosis, that myelin deteriorates, so there isn't protection around the nerves and they get damaged, eventually leading to increased disabilities. But Upstate University, Strong Memorial and Buffalo General Hospitals are researching how to build that nerve insulation back up.

We hope by this treatment we'll be able to re-myelinate the nerves and people will be able to function and not slowly get worse and get disabled," said Jubelt.

The method is already working in mice. Doctors plan to start phase one of human trials within the next couple of years. They hope the findings will yield a treatment option for stage two MS within the decade.

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