Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Perspective on the Importance of the MS-150

Times are tough... There are reminders everywhere of the economic crisis we're enduring. Turn on the TV and stock tickers race by with plummeting markets. A trip to the store takes you through empty foreclosures which have turned bustling neighborhoods into deserted canyons. People everywhere are struggling to maintain the basic necessities of food, water, clothing and shelter. Yes, it's very difficult for individuals these days.

However, the difficulty of the individual pales in comparison to the challenges faced by the medical research community now. If people consider healthcare costs to be outrageous, they would be floored to see some of the price tags laboratories have to deal with. A simple order of restriction enzymes, the most basic of molecular biology tools, can easily top $10,000. By itself, this isn't a major issue. However, as researchers we are intrinsically tied to the grants which fund our research. I'm sure you see where this story is going - the money for research is drying up faster than the Sahara.

First a bit of background. If you're not sure what multiple sclerosis is, you're about to get a crash course in exactly why it's so important to find a cure for this disease. Our nerves are covered in an insulating material called myelin. This insulation makes it possible for nerve impulses to travel from our brains to move our toes without delay. In patients with multiple sclerosis, this insulating myelin is destroyed by the immune system. Since our nerves control our bodies, the demyelination of nerves lead to symptoms which range from nausea, weakness, muscle spasms, blurred vision, depression, and headaches. After the initial onset it is almost impossible to predict what symptoms a victim of MS may face or when they may go into remission. The symptoms can flare up without warning and go into remission just as quickly. It is uncertain as to exactly why that is. Although there appear to be genetic predispositions to MS, the basis of the disease is not purely genetic so it is difficult to predict whom it will strike. There is no cure and there are few treatments for this disease. Whether it is doctors trying to treat the disease or patients struggling to live with it, the only certainty with MS is uncertainty.

This is why events such as the MS-150 are so important. Charitable organizations such as the Livestrong foundation and the National MS Society provide a vital source of additional grants which make research possible. Twenty-six cents of every dollar raised during the MS-150 rides goes directly to funding MS research (overall $0.82 from every dollar directly funds MS related activities). As a researcher, I can tell you first hand that every penny obtained makes a major difference in the amount of work a lab is able to accomplish. However, fundraising in the MS-150 isn't measured in nickels and dimes. Last year, the Frisco to Ft. Worth MS-150 raised over $2 million. The BP MS-150 from Houston to Austin raised over $17 million.

But the MS-150 isn't simply a fundraising event. The ride itself helps bring important attention to the cause as well as the people who bravely fight this disease every day. There is no greater source of inspiration than folks like Rodney who live with MS and undertake the daunting task of pedaling over 150 miles. That's the reason why I ride the MS-150 and am working towards raising money for it. For all the talk of scientific theories and dollars and cents collected, the real reason why the Bike MS rides are so important are people like Rodney who have to confront the uncertainty this disease creates every day but find ways to shine through it.

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