UW Today

July 13, 2012

UW Medicine opens comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis Center at Northwest Hospital

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

UW Medicine Multiple Sclerosis Center

Northwest Hospital map and driving instructions

This month UW Medicine inaugurates its new Multiple Sclerosis Center, sited on the campus of Northwest Hospital & Medical Center in Seattle.

The public is invited to an open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 21 at the facility, which is staffed with one of the regions strongest concentrations of specialists focused on the disease.The comprehensive, state-of-the-art care center opened July 2 to patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and similar neurological disorders.

An estimated 2.5 million people worldwide live with MS. Research has led physicians to classify it as an autoimmune disorder, though its cause or causes are unclear. It is thought to involve genetics; a trigger such as infections or viruses; and environmental factors such as insufficient vitamin D. Incidence is higher in the cloudy Pacific Northwest.

MS is characterized by attacks on myelin, tissue that insulates nerves much like an electrical cord wrapping, in the brain and spinal cord.   Breaks in the myelin compromise nerve  transmission of signals and can cause variable symptoms such as impaired thinking, vision, sensation, movement and bladder function.

The disease usually has periods of remission and exacerbation. Most MS patients are diagnosed between ages 20 and 40.

The lobby of the new UW Medicine Multiple Sclerosis Center at Northwest Hospital.

The lobby of the new UW Medicine Multiple Sclerosis Center at Northwest Hospital.

The new facility represents improved access to care for MS patients in the Puget Sound region. In 1977, UW Medical Center established the Western Multiple Sclerosis Center, one of the first programs in the United States to build MS expertise across multiple disciplines of medicine relevant to the disease.

The center aggregates several such services in one setting, including neurology, rehabilitation medicine, psychology, and physical, occupational and speech therapy. It houses a four-bed infusion suite. The new location also avails patients of a new, advanced MRI scanner for monitoring disease activity, and Northwest Hospitals regionally distinct “Easy Street” – a rehabilitative cityscape environment that replicates physical obstacles such as curbs, steps, ramps, theater seating and a restaurant booth. The absence of such physical challenges played a role in the siting of the new center: a ground-floor clinic in the McMurray Medical Building, with a patient drop-off/pickup zone and adjacent parking.

The center is led jointly by Dr. Shana Johnson, UW assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine, and Dr. Annette Wundes, UW assistant professor of neurology. They and a staff of MS specialists diagnose and treat patients.

“We individualize patient care, selecting from an evolving assortment of treatments to best control their disease,” Wundes said. “We are working with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Swedish Medical Center on stem-cell transplantation in selected patients with particularly active MS. This represents the leading edge of care.”

The center maintains a close working relationship with the UW Medicines MS Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, founded in 1998 with federal funding from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The program conducts research and training whose aim is to improve rehabilitation methods and services so people with MS can maintain maximum independence.

For many years, the University of Washingtons School of Medicine has trained MS specialists to meet the local and national need for such care. At the July 21 open house, the public is invited to see the new space, meet staff, learn about the centers services and visit the Easy Street environment where patients receive rehabilitation therapies.

Weekend parking is free on the Northwest Hospital & Medical Center campus. The McMurray building is on the campus south edge, near 115th Street. Maps and driving instructions are available at http://nwhospital.org/map. For more information on the UW Medicine Multiple Sclerosis Center, visit http://uwmedicine.org/ms.