Waddell Center for MS Welcomes Dr. Aram Zabeti

Contact: Cindy Starr
(513) 558-3505

Aram Zabeti, MD, the new Medical Director of the Waddell Center for Multiple Sclerosis at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute, has a lot of people to meet. About 1,800 to be precise.

Over the next several months he will be meeting the Waddell Center’s patients one on one, getting to know their personalities, their medical histories and the challenges they face every day. He brings a careful, disciplined approach to each new patient he sees.

“My main focus right now is patient care,” Dr. Zabeti says. “Patients with MS need very close monitoring and follow-ups. I want to make sure all of my patients are safe and receiving the best care we can provide. Even if a patient has been to the Waddell Center before, I treat them as a new patient. I go over the diagnosis and how the diagnosis was made.”

“We are delighted to have Dr. Zabeti, with his tremendous expertise and passion for MS care at the Waddell Center,” says Joseph Broderick, MD, Research Director at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute and Chairman of the Department of Neurology.

Dr. Aram Zabeti – pronounced ah-RAHM Zah-BAY-tee – is a native of Tehran, Iran, and he comes to the Waddell Center from one of the strongest multiple sclerosis centers in the country: the Oregon Health and Science University’s Multiple Sclerosis Center. He replaces Maria Melanson, MD, who left for a position in industry  earlier this year.

Dr. Zabeti, whose father was an orthopedic surgeon and whose mother was a dentist, always knew that he would become a doctor. He found his calling in MS early, and by chance.

“My cousin had MS,” he says. “For her to get medical care, she and her family moved to Tehran, the capital, and she stayed with us for a few months while I was in high school. It was for me the most important event. It impressed me, and it was my main motivation to specialize in MS. She was maybe 25 and in the last year of medical school. Unfortunately, she had a very progressive MS, and of course back then she was being given a late diagnosis with complications.

“I was her host, and I provided whatever she needed: food, meals, those types of things. But I saw how much she suffered. Previously, when she was healthy, we had a lot of fun together. So it was hard for me to see her going through all these problems, just as her future was supposed to be in front of her.”

Dr. Zabeti began Iran’s seven-year medical program after high school and became a general practitioner upon graduation. He established a private practice, worked as an emergency room physician and maintained a constant volunteer connection with the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation and the National MS Society of Iran. He held educational conferences for his patients and routinely translated published updates about MS into Farsi for their benefit.

But pursuing a path in MS in Iran would prove difficult.  “There were MS specialists in Iran, but none of them was fellowship trained, and there was no MS fellowship program,” Dr. Zabeti says. In order to follow his calling, Dr. Zabeti would need to leave his country and embark on a rigorous new academic path.

At the end of 2005 he secured a research position at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he studied neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s, and began working toward the board examinations that would enable him to apply for a residency training program at a U.S. university. He was subsequently accepted at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, where he completed his residency in 2012.

His goal now within his grasp, Dr. Zabeti began a fellowship at Oregon University’s acclaimed Multiple Sclerosis Center. “Their MS fellowship program is unique because they have seven full-time faculty working 100 percent on MS,” Dr. Zabeti says. “Dr. Dennis Bourdette, my mentor, is the Chairman of the Department of Neurology and is devoted to MS. For me it was important because MS is still a new disease whose diagnosis and management are frequently based on one’s clinical experience, and I was very fortunate to work with seven different faculty members with different experiences and slightly different approaches in diagnosis and treatment.”

The fellowship-trained Dr. Zabeti was then persuaded to apply for the Waddell Center position by his senior physician from his residency program at West Virginia University, neurologist Laurie Gutmann, MD. “I saw Cincinnati as a very good match,” he says. “I felt there was a lot of demand here, a huge number of patients needing an MS specialist. The neurology department was strong and highly regarded, with great potential in my field. I found it a great opportunity for me and my future.”

Dr. Zabeti is still getting traction at the Waddell Center. He has boxes that remain unpacked at his home, and he has had little time to enjoy his hobbies, which include squash and table tennis. (He is a former brown-belt in karate.)

But he is immersed in patient appointments at the UC Health physicians’ offices at the UC Medical Center in Clifton (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and at University Pointe (Mondays). Soon he will begin overseeing the Cincinnati portion of a 28-site, phase II clinical trial for Ibudilast, an anti-inflammatory drug that will be tested in study participants with the most challenging type of multiple sclerosis, known as progressive MS.

Progressive MS has two sub-categories: primary and secondary. Patients with primary progressive MS experience steady progression of their disease from the onset. Patients with secondary progressive MS enter this progressive phase following an earlier phase called relapsing-remitting MS, a period marked by cycles of wellness, attacks and recovery. “Once they are progressive,” Dr. Zabeti says, “they keep getting worse, month by month or year by year.”

At present, there are 10 FDA-approved medications for relapsing-remitting MS, but none approved for either category of progressive MS. The availability of a medication that slows the progression of MS, Dr. Zabeti says, would be of critical importance. It would be of sentimental importance, too. Progressive MS was the type that struck his young cousin, the type that launched a career.

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