Published May 29, 2012
Gil I. Wolfe, MD, Irvin and Rosemary Smith Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology, helped organize the 12th International Conference on Myasthenia Gravis and Related Disorders, held May 20-23 in New York City.
An authority on a range of neuromuscular disorders, Wolfe was one of four organizers of the quinquennial conference, which drew the world’s most prominent researchers on myasthenia gravis and related neuromuscular junction disorders.
The conference featured 50 speakers and more than 100 poster sessions as well as a “hot topics” session.
In addition to helping organize the conference, Wolfe presented an update on a major international trial of which he is clinical chair. The trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health, concerns the surgical procedure thymectomy, which is routinely performed on myasthenia gravis patients with thymoma, a chest tumor.
The study is assessing whether the procedure can help patients who do not present with a chest tumor.
The most common disease of neuromuscular transmission, myasthenia gravis results from an immune-mediated communication disruption between nerve and muscle. Symptoms include a droopy eyelid, blurred or double vision, difficulty breathing and muscle weakness.
Three decades ago, approximately a third of all patients with MG died from it, but new diagnostic techniques and treatments have dramatically improved patients’ quality of life and longevity.
Today, their lifespan matches that of the general population.
“Myasthenia gravis is one of neurologic medicine’s success stories in terms of diagnosis and advancement in treatment,” says Wolfe.
The disease is diagnosed by testing blood for one of two antibodies. A third antibody related to MG also has been discovered and was discussed at the meeting.
Still, says Wolfe, some treatments don’t work as fast or as well for some patients. Many treatments, which typically suppress the immune system, have significant side effects.