Dr. Lilyana Amezcua: Learning from Latinos with MS
Lilyana Amezcua, MD, has wanted to be a neurologist since she started college, inspired by a brother with a neurological and autoimmune condition. While doing her residency at the University of Southern California (USC), she spent time with immunologists, which led to her specializing in MS. Thanks to a fellowship from the Society in 2006-08, she trained in clinical MS and neuroimmunology under Leslie P. Weiner, MD, where she learned to diagnose and treat MS and conduct multiple clinical trials. “I’ll always be indebted for the financial support, wonderful mentorship and for getting to know the players,” she commented.
Dr. Amezcua quickly realized during her fellowship that she was serving a large number of Latinos with MS. So she became interested in defining and identifying barriers to treatment in order to serve this population better. This has included writing for the Society’s Conexión Hispana quarterly newsletter distributed in California and Nevada, translating information and creating educational groups that focus on certain populations of people with MS, such as the newly diagnosed or adolescents. Being of Mexican-Spanish descent herself has made it easier to accomplish these tasks.
Dr. Amezcua is interested in researching and defining the characteristics of MS in Latinos, which are not yet well-known. Both a registry and an observational study have noted that Latinos are about two years younger at the onset of disease than other North Americans, that immigrants are at higher risk for disability than U.S.-born Latinos and that there has been a big rise in MS in Latin America in the last 20 to 25 years. (To hear Dr. Amezcua discuss MS with Dr. Victor Rivera in Spanish, click here and here.)
Dr. Amezcua, currently Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology at the USC MS Comprehensive Care Center in Los Angeles, is also collaborating with the National MS Society and the L.A. county supervisor to develop a wellness center with an MS program for low-income people. It will include “everything from education to the chance to participate in trials,” she said. “We want to create awareness about MS, as has been done for stroke and heart disease, and to let people know it’s important to seek attention for certain symptoms. Individuals will be able to participate in programs, such as meditation and exercise, that will enhance their ability to deal with their MS.” If all goes well, the center will be up and running early in 2012.
She also hopes to be able to discover environmental aspects of the disease—and maybe spot risk factors we have yet to identify. “Although we don’t have a cure yet, we’ve certainly come a long way in treatment. MS is a complex disease, but we’re learning so much—it’s so important to learn from people with MS.”