University Eye Institute At UH Sees Start Of Multiple Sclerosis Eye Care Center

HOUSTON, March, 2006 ??” The University of Houston, University Eye Institute and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society are partnering to open a new clinic to evaluate the eyes of patients with multiple sclerosis and those who are multiple sclerosis suspects.

A joint press conference will announce the opening of the Multiple Sclerosis Eye Center for Analysis, Research and Education (MS Eye CARE) at 11:30 a.m., Monday, March 6.

Located in the University Eye Institute on the UH campus, the new center is currently the only one of its kind where the MS Society has affiliated directly with an eye institute. Now a formal affiliate of the National MS Society, this center is dedicated to the eye care of adults and children with MS and patients who are MS suspects.

“What differentiates us from other MS centers is our focus on recognizing and studying the very early visual and eye movement findings as they relate to MS,” said Jade S. Schiffman, M.D., the facility’s medical director. “Early signs of MS are easily overlooked. A goal of MS Eye CARE is to help health care professionals recognize the early eye manifestations suggestive of MS and to serve as a referral center for MS prospects. This is especially important for eye care professionals, who are often the first health care professionals to see MS patients, since in almost half of the cases the initial symptoms often involve the eyes.”

Dr. Schiffman is an associate professor at UH and a member of the Methodist Neurological Institute in the Texas Medical Center. She is board certified in both neurology and ophthalmology and has subspecialty training in neuro-ophthalmology. She has been recognized in the Best Doctors in America for the past 12 years. The center’s research director is Laura Frishman, the associate dean for graduate studies and research for UH’s College of Optometry and an internationally recognized expert in the visual system. Both work together with Ph.D.s in physiological optics to blend clinical, electrophysiological and other new technology to aid in the early diagnosis of MS.

MS can cause myriad symptoms, including blurred vision, blindness, eye pain, double vision, dizziness, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis and others. Some of these symptoms initially may be transient, making early diagnosis difficult. MS Eye CARE has developed protocols that will facilitate early diagnosis and will provide initial measures of progression of the disease.

“The symptoms of MS mimic a wide range of diseases and can easily be attributed to something else for a number of years until they become severe enough to be recognized as being caused by MS,” she said. “Using the latest diagnostic technology and working with neurologists, we are able to confirm the diagnosis even when symptoms may have temporarily resolved. Early diagnosis is extremely important in the management of MS because progression can be slowed down by relatively new medications and the patient’s quality of life enhanced if treatment is initiated early. The ability to provide a patient suspected to have MS with an alternative diagnosis is also equally important.”

Additional goals of MS Eye CARE include direct rehabilitation to patients with disabling visual symptoms and referrals to neighboring clinics in the University Eye Institute, such as the Center for Sight Enhancement. MS Eye CARE also works with treating neurologists at collaborating medical facilities that include the Maxine Messinger MS Center, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s MS group, Texas Children’s Hospital and other outside neurologists who are caring for MS patients.

“There is a finite window of opportunity in detecting MS,” said Mark Neagli, president of the National MS Society, Lone Star Chapter. “Prompt diagnosis is important, because early treatment has been proven to lessen the destruction caused by MS. This is a crucial partnership in fighting this disease and setting our sights on stopping MS in its tracks.”

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s first MS Awareness Week begins March 13.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the National MS Society, Lone Star Chapter
Celebrating more than 50 years in the fight against multiple sclerosis, the Lone Star Chapter serves more than 17,000 people affected by multiple sclerosis in 141 Texas counties. The chapter is number one in the nation financially, geographically and in terms of population served. While there is no cure yet, FDA-approved medications can significantly reduce the number of acute attacks and delay the onset of permanent disabilities. All funds are privately raised and 83 cents of every dollar is used to benefit persons affected by multiple sclerosis. The Lone Star Chapter has offices in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Corpus Christi.

Studies show that early and ongoing treatment with an FDA-approved therapy can reduce future disease activity and improve quality of life for many people with multiple sclerosis. Talk to your health care professional and contact the National MS Society at www.nationalmssociety or 1-800-FIGHT-MS to learn about ways to help manage MS and about current research that may one day reveal a cure.

About the UH College of Optometry
For more than 50 years, the University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) has trained optometrists to provide the highest quality vision and eye care. One of only 17 optometry schools in the United States, the UHCO offers a variety of degree programs including: Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), a combined Doctor of Optometry / Doctor of Philosophy (O.D./Ph.D.), Master of Science (M.S.) and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Located on the UH campus, the UHCO consists of 50 full-time faculty, 508 adjunct faculty as well as 76 full-time staff.

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Contact: Lisa Merkl
University of Houston