USC researchers aim to learn more about Hispanics with MS

Denise Dador Image
Saturday, November 11, 2017
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The project aims to break down barriers and spark dialogue helpful to research.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Two years ago, 37-year-old Jose Brassea couldn't understand what was happening to his arms.

"We were bowling and then my arms started feeling numb, he said. "And the numbness got worse."

After a week, the symptoms disappeared. Brassea, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, initially just shook it off, until something drastic happened.

Brassea said one eye was able to see from the side, while the other kept looking straight.

A trip to the emergency room eventually led to doctors telling him he had multiple sclerosis.

He said, "It's a life changing diagnosis."

A Latino man in his mid-30s may not seem like the typical face of MS, but after whites, Hispanics are the second largest group affected by this condition, yet fewer than one percent of multiple sclerosis research addresses how this disease affects them.

A short film called "Dentro de Mi," or "Inside of Me," is part of a first-of-its-kind study being launched at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.

The project aims to break down barriers and spark dialogue helpful to research. Neurologist Lilyana Amezcua hopes the film elicits discussion with participants which in turn, will help researchers.

"What is it that they accept about MS out in the community? How do they perceive it? How do they go about it?" Amezcua said.

According to Amezcua, studies have shown that Latinos in the U.S. who are less acculturated tend to have greater complications and are less likely to seek medical care.

"There are differences in their disability levels and so immigrants have a higher risk of being more disabled with MS," she said.

Participants will also provide a genetic sample to help scientists understand if certain DNA markers influence disease severity.

Amezcua adds, "There are large gaps in knowledge that we want to address with this study."

The research, which is being funded by a grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, will be recruiting 400 Hispanic people, who have been diagnosed with MS within the last two years.

Other study sites in the trial include the University of Miami, University of New Mexico and Caribbean Neurological Center in Puerto Rico. Scientists will follow participants in the study for two years.

Anyone in Southern California interested in joining the study should contact USC at 323-442-6817 for more information.

Brassea wants to help and hopes others will join him.

"So no one can sit idly by saying, 'I'm never going to get it,' because you never know," he said.