Five kids from Canada and their determined doctor are helping millions of people around the world. Back in 1999, when she was a pediatric neurologist at the University of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Dr. Brenda Banwell was asked to care for five kids diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She knew how to treat adult MS patients, but caring for children was new to her.
Banwell searched for information, but she found little of it. Formal pediatric MS programs didn’t exist anywhere in the world. “The average age of diagnosis is between 28-35,” says Banwell, who lives in Bryn Mawr. “But there are children suffering from the disease. My question was, ‘How do we treat them?’”
First, Banwell had to focus on getting accurate diagnoses. Juvenile MS manifests differently than the adult version. Attacks can be sporadic—even years apart—and can mimic other diseases. Banwell then created a 10-year study of acute demyelination, a form of MS in kids. She’s overseeing the 23-site survey, and every children’s hospital in Canada is participating, as is CHOP. She’s also the chair of an international study that includes 150 participants in 40 countries. The long-term goal is to adapt adult MS treatments for pediatric use.
Already, CHOP is participating in clinical trials for various medications. Banwell oversees those, as well—and she travels to Toronto monthly to do the same there. Rest assured, if there are ways to help kids with MS lead better lives, Banwell intends to find them. “I hope it will be similar to juvenile diabetes, where we can’t cure it but can control it,” she says.
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