Oregon Health & Science University today announced it has established a new fund to promote innovative research in the fight against multiple sclerosis. Made possible by a generous $1 million pledge from the family of Portland advertising executive Dan Wieden, the fund is named for his daughter, Laura, who has the disease. Seed money from the Laura fund will enable OHSU researchers to pursue their most creative ideas in the search for a cure for MS.
Laura Wieden, 35, first exhibited symptoms of MS while in her 20s. As her condition worsened, she sought out OHSU's internationally known MS physician and researcher Dennis Bourdette, M.D., director of OHSU's MS Center of Oregon. Among his many achievements in neuroscience, Bourdette is known for his work in developing a promising MS vaccine. Bourdette's creative vision and his determination to cure MS in the near term inspired the Wiedens to invest in OHSU's potential for discovery.
Adding to their confidence in OHSU was the institution's national reputation for leading-edge brain science. Home to the largest community of neuroscience researchers west of the Rockies, OHSU currently has more National Institutes of Health-funded brain research projects under way than any other U.S. medical school, and is the No. 2 recipient of NIH funding for neuroscience. But federal funding for novel or high-risk projects is increasingly difficult to come by. The Laura fund will make it possible for scientists to explore promising new ideas that would otherwise go untested due to a lack of resources, Wieden said.
In science, like anything else in life, sometimes the best ideas come from unexpected places," Wieden said. "OHSU has some of the top neuroscientists in nation, but their work is limited to what federal funding agencies choose to support. My family wanted to give OHSU's best people an alternative source of funding to explore their most creative ideas."
OHSU's most promising research is aimed at pinpointing the causes of nerve cell death and damage, developing ways to regrow damaged cells and identifying ways to prevent the destruction of nerve cells. Two innovative MS projects have received support so far from the Laura fund:
* An investigation of whether removing hyaluronic acid - a complex sticking sugar - from damaged areas in MS will allow remyelination to occur. This research could lead to the development of drugs that can help nerve cells heal themselves of the damage associated with MS.
* A study of how stabilizing mitochondria - the energy-producing "factories of cells" - can protect nerve fibers from being destroyed in MS. This research may result in the development of a whole new class of drugs for protecting nerve fibers from being destroyed in MS.
The Laura fund is just one example of how Laura Wieden and her family have taken an aggressive approach to dealing with her condition. Wieden's experiences at the MS Center of Oregon taught her how to play an active role in her own care and inspired her to help others cope with the disease's often-debilitating symptoms. With friend Cloe Cohen, she founded a local support group for MS patients under age 36, and she has shared her moving story at numerous awareness-raising events in the community. Most recently, she spoke at the Oregon chapter of the National MS Society's "Dinner of Champions," at which OHSU President Peter O. Kohler, M.D., was presented with the chapter's highest honor, the Hope award, for community leadership and service.
"I'm convinced that MS can be cured in my lifetime," she said, "but only if scientists have the freedom to pursue their most creative ideas. The way research is funded today, that freedom has to come in the form of community support. If the public knew how close they really are to discovering better treatments - even cures - at OHSU, I know they would be lining up to pitch in."
Contributions to the Laura fund at OHSU are welcome. To make a gift online, visit http://www.ohsu.edu/about/ohsufoundation/foundation/makegift.html. To give by mail, send contributions to the Laura Fund, c/o Maureen Bradley, director of development, OHSU Neurosciences, OHSU Foundation, 1121 SW Salmon St., Suite 200, Portland, OR 97205, 503 494-7455.
The OHSU Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that exists to secure private philanthropic support for Oregon Health & Science University. The foundation raises funds from individuals, companies, foundations and organizations, and invests and manages gifts in accordance with donors' wishes.