Neurologist Andrew Smith, MD, loves helping his multiple sclerosis (MS) patients meet their personal and professional goals.
Smith, recently hired by University of Minnesota Health, sees patients at University of Minnesota Health Maple Grove Clinics and our Minneapolis-based Clinics and Surgery Center. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition that occurs when a person’s immune system misfires, causing damage to myelin, a protective layer around nerve fibers. Over time, the disease can cause muscle stiffness, paralysis, bladder problems and other issues.
MS care is a calling for Smith, who works to strike a balance between long-term disease control and enabling his patients to live a full and healthy life.
We asked Smith a few questions about his decision to join University of Minnesota Health, his passion for MS care and what patients can expect from him for their MS care.
When I went into neurology, I originally wanted to specialize in dementia—a disease that affected my grandmother. However, I soon realized that caring for patients with dementia was too emotionally challenging because of my personal experience. I re-evaluated the aspects of neurology that I enjoyed. I knew loved following patients over time and establishing relationships. Later, I worked with Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, a prominent MS expert at Cleveland Clinic. Seeing him care for MS patients there inspired me. I felt like this was an undeserved area of medicine that needed compassionate physicians. I decided to specialize in MS and spent two years working at the Cleveland Clinic honing my skills under Dr. Cohen’s mentorship.
I also offer care for other autoimmune diseases that affect the nervous system, such as neuromyelitis optica (NMO), optic neuritis, transverse myelitis, Susac's syndrome, sarcoidosis and Behcet's disease.
MS is a chronic condition. The needs of MS patients are different than those with other neurological conditions because these patients are typically younger. We need to balance controlling the disease with each patient's personal goals—including their professional, social and reproductive goals. Finding the balance can be tricky for some, but is important and serves as a foundation for our long-term care.
MS patients have incredible strength, adaptability and resilience. MS is an unpredictable, sometimes disabling disease that can flare up unexpectedly and interrupt day-to-day life. I’m always impressed and inspired by my patients’ remarkable abilities to cope with the hurdles of the disease.
Current MS research is focused on stopping the inflammation of the disease and healing brain and nerve damage caused by the disease. At the moment, we have more than 15 treatments for the inflammation—and more are on the way. Future anti-inflammatory medications are becoming safer and more effective. There are several drugs in the pipeline that are showing promise for repairing the damage caused by MS. However, these therapies are probably three to five years away from becoming available for patients. Stem cell therapy is another avenue that holds a lot of promise for MS patients.
We’re is making strides in both autologous and allogeneic stem cell research that have the potential to cure MS. My goal is to give my patients access to clinical trials in order to provide them with the newest and most advanced care options, and help us better understand this disease.
What makes you passionate about your work?
I enjoy hearing people’s stories, identifying their goals and then helping them achieve those goals. I also love mentoring the next generation of physicians and advancing medicine through groundbreaking research and clinical trials.