• U.S.

Medicine: Mystery Crippler

2 minute read

The patient first notices a pins-&-needles sensation in his legs. After a time his head and shoulders may twitch, his eyeballs roll wildly, he sees double, reels when walking, stumbles in his speech, from time to time is seized by uncontrollable laughing or crying jags. In advanced stages he may be paralyzed.

The patient is not drunk. These are symptoms of a mysterious, widespread disease known as multiple sclerosis, a disorder of the nervous system. Doctors have recognized it for nearly 100 years (the German poet Heinrich Heine is believed to have died of it), but they have never discovered its cause or cure.

Last week the first concerted attack on the disease was launched by a new organization started by multiple sclerosis sufferers. Based in Manhattan, the Association for Advancement of Research on Multiple Sclerosis has enlisted some of the top U.S. neurologists (honorary chairman: Dr. Tracy J. Putnam, director of Columbia University’s Neurological Institute).

Neurologists estimate that multiple sclerosis is more prevalent than infantile paralysis. The disease is characterized by sclerosis (hardening) of scattered patches of nerves in the central nervous system. It has been attributed variously to 1) clots in the small blood vessels of the nervous system; 2) spasmic contractions of the blood vessels; 3) a spirochete (not the syphilis variety). But treatments based on these theories (e.g., anti-clotting and blood-vessel dilating drugs) do not cure the disease. It usually strikes between the ages of 20 and 35. It is seldom painful, and rarely fatal, but often cripples its victims.

Prime aims of AARMS: 1) raise funds for a full-dress research program; 2) determine the scope and prevalence of the disease.*

* A substantial number of sclerosis patients turn up in hospitals, but nobody has ever counted the much greater number who are treated at home by private doctors.

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