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New fund created to boost local MS research efforts

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 12:01 am

At a time when multiple sclerosis cases have grown worldwide by 10 percent in the past five years, there is a new opportunity for funding research in northeast Indiana, southern Michigan and northwest Ohio.

The IU School of Medicine in Fort Wayne recently announced the creation of the Anna Yoder MS Fund to benefit research, education and outreach services for individuals and their communities affected by MS. The fund was created with a $500,000 gift from Florabelle Yoder, a Fort Wayne resident, as a memorial to her granddaughter Anna Yoder who dealt with the challenges of the disease. Her mother, Florabelle's daughter, Peggy, was diagnosed at 32, just before Anna's birth.

According to Jennifer Boen, director of the Anna Yoder MS Fund, Peggy Yoder's disease moved swiftly. She lived for years, but was disabled much of the time. Just before Anna went to school, Peggy needed long-term care. Peggy outlived both her mother and her daughter, who died as a young adult from encephalitis, shortly after her graduation from Elmhurst High School in 1997. Florabelle died in 2007 and Peggy lived until 2010.

Boen said they are hoping to grow the $500,000 through investments with the IU Foundation to create a perpetuity fund, a carrot to dangle in front of MS researchers who would like to come to northeast Indiana.

“Florabelle Yoder stipulated in her will that some of the money must be kept in this area to be used for research,” Boen said.

“The fact the IU School of Medicine is doing research in MS is a perfect partnership for this money,” Boen said.

Besides attracting MS researchers to the area, Boen said the money would also be a possible funding source for agencies in the community that work with MS patients. Part of the money is also to be used towards education of caregivers and patients and Boen said they are looking at having an annual MS symposium here in Fort Wayne.

MS hits home for Boen whose father, Kenneth Beebe, was diagnosed with it in his early 60s. He lived to be 92, but for the last few years of his life he couldn't live on his own, Boen said.

According to the MS Foundation the disease is a chronic neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system, brain and spinal cord. The protective coating of myelin that surrounds and protects nerve fibers are damaged. This can break the flow of nerve signals traveling to the brain. The inflammation caused by MS can permanently damage the nerve fibers and cause permanent loss of function. MS affects nearly 2.3 million people worldwide. Nearly 7,000 people living in the Fort Wayne area have the disease. It is twice as likely to strike women as men, and is more common in parts of the globe that have less sunlight annually.

Dr. Fen-Lei Chang, associate dean and director of the IU School of Medicine at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, said future financial opportunities for research from the fund will go a long way in attracting other MS researchers to the area. They recently recruited MS researcher Dr. Jimmy Yen, of Temple University, who has been conducting very promising laboratory research with mice to lower the inflammation in mice with laboratory-induced MS, allowing them to regain some of the muscle use they had lost as the MS progressed.

Inflammation in the body can be a good thing, explained Chang, noting when an area of the body is infected it becomes inflamed as the body's white blood cells rush to defend the area from infection. With MS the inflammation goes too far and the body begins to attack itself, destroying the protective coating of myelin that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. Chang said although some studies point to the relationship between lack of vitamin D and MS it is too early to say if this is one of the causes. However it has been found that when some populations move farther north they have an increased risk in developing the disease.

Chang said the new foundation money is a great opportunity for the patients in the area because the more clinical trials that exist in an area the more opportunities MS patients there will have.

“Patients in Fort Wayne will have as many opportunities for treatment trials as larger markets, like Indianapolis,” Chang said.