NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – More people are being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis these days than in the past.

While researchers don’t know exactly why, they do know the disease can have devastating effects.

But as CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, a breakthrough drug is now improving the lives of more and more patients and given others a second chance.

“They said, ‘You have multiple sclerosis,’” patient Besa Vlashi said. “I was like, ‘What?’”

“I went to the doctor, he said, ‘It looks like multiple sclerosis,’ and I was like, ‘What?’” said patient Stephanie White.

“You can imagine someone who is finishing up with college, entering the workplace, thinking about maybe having a family, and then to hear a diagnosis of MS,” Dr. Mary Ann Picone, medical director of the MS Center at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J., said.

Vlashi was just 15 years old when she received the news.

“I think it did rob me a lot,” she said.

White was a freshman in college.

“It is very much — the unknown is the scary part of it all,” she said.

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, attacks the central nervous system, disrupting the flow of information between the body and the brain.

“This can cause patients to have problems with their vision or balance, coordination difficulties, walking difficulties, fatigue… memory problems,” said Picone.

There are several types of MS, and present drugs can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease and manage symptoms. Still, many patients may wind up in wheelchairs.

“You would diagnose a person and really say, ‘Listen, I really don’t have anything to offer you,’” said Dr. David Duncan.

“Fortunately, it’s a different picture nowadays,” Picone said. “We have been involved here at the MS Center… in the early clinical studies for ocrelizumab.”

Administered in two sessions by infusion, Ocrevus is FDA approved for the treatment of primary progressive multiple sclerosis. Clinical trials have also shown significant decreases in disease activity and disability progression in relapsing MS.

“This new drug is… treating MS in a whole new direction,” said Duncan.

The trials showed that four years of continuous treatment with Ocrevus resulted in delayed cognitive decline and improved cognitive function in relapsing MS.

Vlashi is about to turn 30 and now married.

“I’m very optimistic,” she said.

White is 27 and a new mom.

“Being a mom is the greatest blessing,” she said.

For them, Ocrevus is the best they have until there’s a cure.


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