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Strength of Purpose

Story by Allison Milionis | Photos by Gary Matoso

A Providence neuroimmunologist in Spokane, WA explains the progress we’re making for people with multiple sclerosis

Jessica R. Craddock, M.D., works with multiple sclerosis patients in Spokane, Eastern Washington, to evaluate balance and fine motor function.

Jessica R. Craddock, M.D., discovered her passion for helping people with multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases by accident. She was a medical student working alongside her mentor when she met her first MS patients.

Inspired by the advancements in research and patient care opportunities, Dr. Craddock focused her studies on neurology and advanced fellowship training in neuroimmunology—a field that studies and treats diseases involving the immune and nervous systems.

Now a Spokane resident, she is excited to be here, helping to build on MS and autoimmune disease care in eastern Washington and beyond. We asked Dr. Craddock what she and her colleagues are doing now and what’s in store for the future.

How can neuroimmunology help people?

These conditions are often difficult to diagnose, and the treatments are specific to the diseases. Medications offer significant benefits but can also affect and alter the immune system, posing risks of significant side effects. Other than medications, there is more that goes into the management of each individual disease, such as physical and occupational therapy, supplements or involvement of other specialty physicians. With the rarity of these conditions and the treatment options, it is important to have a physician who understands the risks and benefits well and has experience using these therapies.

Are you seeing progress in MS research and treatments?

Definitely. While I was in medical school, there were only a handful of treatments for MS. Since then, there has been an explosion in MS research and therapy options. Currently there are 13 approved MS therapies, and at least one new medication could be approved in the next year. There’s a big push toward stem cell research to stop inflammation and the progression of MS as well as continued research on diet or nutritional changes.

There is also research being done to try to reverse damage already accumulated. In 10 years, I think we will still be working on those items and discovering more about how MS is triggered, and how to best treat it. Much of the research now is focused on specific parts of the immune system rather than a more global approach. This allows us to affect only the parts of the immune system that we want to treat.

Can you tell us about research that’s going on?

We’re focused on clinical trials to improve our knowledge of MS both in the disease itself and in treatments to better help our patients. Better treatments and even cures for disease always start with research. In fact, we’re enrolling patients in a research registry now. It’s called the Passage Study. The data we collect will help people know side effects of certain medications and help us understand how some people respond. We are planning to add more studies in the coming years.

What is the outlook for people with MS?

We are seeing a difference in how medications are affecting the disease just by looking out into the waiting rooms. There used be more walkers and wheelchairs. I believe part of this is due to diagnosing and treating MS earlier and more aggressively. I always try to instill in my new patients that being diagnosed with MS does not come with a bleak ending. We can change the disease and do something about it, even though there is currently no cure.

Jessica R. Craddock, M.D., works with multiple sclerosis patients in Spokane, Eastern Washington, to evaluate balance and fine motor function.

What resources are available in the area?

Providence Multiple Sclerosis Center in Spokane is a destination for specialty care with a foundation on accessibility, communication and excellent interdisciplinary care. We have the skills and background to provide this. Our goal is to improve access to appropriate evaluation and care, because there is a high concentration of MS patients in this region and a smaller number of specialty providers.