Office Of Public Affairs

Neurologist John Rose Works Tirelessly to Care for MS Patients

Apr 16, 2009 1:30 PM

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” John Rose, M.D., Ph.D, first read those legendary words of Henry David Thoreau in a high school English class. Today, they still serve as his inspiration to passionately and tirelessly take on a disease—through research, education, and patient care—that, until 20 years ago, was more about desperation than hope for doctors and patients.

As a premiere Multiple Sclerosis (MS) specialist in the country, Rose has been caring for MS patients at the U since 1985, averaging 1,000 patient visits each year. His long-term relationships with patients fuels his drive to work, rather than sleep or vacation, not only because he cares deeply about improving the quality of life for his patients but also because he hopes to discover more treatments for them. “This is a doctor whose inquisitiveness and vast knowledge about MS helps him care for his patients on a much higher level,” says Jane Bjorklund, a clinical research coordinator for MS studies, who accompanies Rose in patient care.

When Rose first entered the field, neuro-immunology was a new science, and he had the idealistic outlook that scientists in this field would be cracking the code on a number of diseases, including MS, within five years. He wanted to be one of them. Progress was hard-earned and inched along through early clinical trials. Now, Rose views it as the golden age of discovery for MS, particularly with the advancements in genetics and MRI technology. When he started, steroid injections were all that could be offered to patients. He hopes that his current research will result in two new drug treatments within five years.

In a dark room in his lab at the Department of Veteran Affairs Hospital, neon-colored molecular “maps” of the disease appear on screen as if in another galaxy. “It is a whole other world,” says Rose, an unassuming, Subaru-driving, bespectacled man who exudes the same excitement of discovery as a space shuttle astronaut.

“He is part of one of the most successful and active teams of integrated researchers in the country addressing MS,” says Amy Mozdy, Ph.D., interdisciplinary manager at the Brain Institute. She points to Rose's keen interest in using MRI technology to monitor the effectiveness of drugs to determine earlier whether a drug therapy is working. Rose is also working closely with scientists at the Utah Center for Advanced Imaging Research (UCAIR) to pioneer imaging for the optic nerve, since MS patients often have optic neuritis. “John represents the best of translational neuroscience research from finding the molecular underpinnings of MS to taking care of patients,” points out Stefan Pulst, M.D., professor and chair of neurology. “He brings innovation and a collaborative approach to a very complex disease.” Teaching students, residents, and fellows brings his efforts full circle as Rose believes the next generation of doctors can use the springboard he and so many others have created to demystify and inhibit MS.

Some 400,000 people are diagnosed with MS each year in the United States, including children as young as five. Utah has one of the highest occurrences of MS in the country. Mysterious and maddening to those living with the disease, MS leaves patients fearing the eventual and irrevocable loss of their ability to function. An inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, MS disrupts communication between nerve fibers. The disease debilitates some, taking away the motor skills needed to speak, walk, or perform other everyday tasks; it treats others less severely, allowing them, in varying degrees, to continue with their lives. Fourteen years ago, Eve Steiner lost her “balance and grace” to MS when she was 16 years old. “Dr. Rose has always been about empowering me and has helped me figure out how to pursue my dreams despite my MS,” she says. “He knows it is more about the patient than the medication.” Through a series of road rides, Steiner has cycled the perimeter of the United States.

“Each patient is going to need something a little bit different,” says Rose, who often drops to eye-level when talking to his patients in wheelchairs. “I really try to listen to what the patient has to say and then help them put it in perspective through the lens of the disease. I’m encouraging when it is reasonable to be encouraging.”

Vestiges of his high school English class show up in other areas of Rose's life. Every morning, as he's about to walk out the door, one of his parrots dutifully bids him farewell with lines from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” “Nevermore, nevermore, nevermore,” the parrot squawks, as if reminding Rose of his quest to eliminate suffering from MS.

Visit our Spotlight Archive for a complete list of previous Spotlights.