August 4, 2008

Hershey Med’s Doctors Help China’s ALS Treatment Take

By David Wenner, The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa.

Aug. 4--So many goods come from China.

Now central Pennsylvania has something China needs -- a medical clinic for people with ALS.

And the need is great.

As it stands, people diagnosed with ALS in the Chinese city of Tianjin are given a pamphlet and sent home to be cared for by their families, said Dr. Jim Connor, vice chairman of neurosurgery at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Connor and two other doctors went there for two weeks to help set up an ALS clinic modeled after one at Hershey.

It will be at a government-owned hospital in Tianjin, one of China's largest cities, with about 14 million people.

ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, interrupts the flow of electrical impulses between the brain and muscles. People with ALS gradually become paralyzed, until they can no longer breathe.

There's no cure, or even medical treatments that can slow the disease or minimize its impact.

But much can be done to add to the patient's quality of life, and perhaps lengthen it, and that's what the Hershey doctors are exporting to China.

For example, ALS patients can benefit from equipment such as lifts, braces, special beds and wheelchairs. ALS patients and their families also benefit from professionals who provide psychological, emotional and spiritual support.

The ALS clinic in Hershey uses a team approach to meet those needs, including supporting the patient and their caregivers at home.

Connor doesn't expect the Chinese clinic to mirror the local one. While the Chinese approach of relying on family to care for the ill has its strengths, he suspects it will take families a while to accept having a clinic play such a large role.

Also unclear to Connor is the availability of equipment and community-based supports that play a big part of the offerings to ALS patients in central Pennsylvania.

But the public health bureau in Tianjin is involved with the collaboration, and Connor has high hopes resources will become available and all ALS patients will have access.

On Hershey's end, one benefit is increased research opportunities, Connor said. The local clinic is involved in assorted research projects, including looking for genetic markers that might signal ALS.

The clinic also raises the global profile of the Hershey Medical Center, he said.

"We are a player. We are part of the process. We are recognized," he said.

The Tianjin Bureau of Public Health and Hershey Medical Center signed a formal collaboration several years ago. It involves assorted exchanges related to public health, sharing research and training doctors.

The idea for the Tianjin ALS clinic came after a visiting delegation of Chinese doctors who toured the Hershey clinic and realized they had no comparable offering.

The ALS clinic at Hershey was created in the mid-1990s and serves 13 counties. It has a caseload of more than 100 ALS patients, including about 75 newly diagnosed patients per year.

Connor expects the Tianjin clinic will serve two or three times that many.

Integra LifeSciences, a medical device manufacturer, provided a grant that paid for the Hershey doctors to travel to China, Connor said.


To see more of The Patriot-News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.