WALTHAM, Mass., Dec. 18 Art Mellor is one ofmore than 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2 million worldwide suffering fromMultiple Sclerosis (MS). It's, a debilitating disease that causes paralysis,blindness, incontinence and cognitive dysfunction among other symptoms. Soit's no wonder that Mellor, the founder of the Accelerated Cure Project forMultiple Sclerosis, is less interested in snow and more interested in raisingthe funds he needs to scratch "Develop a cure for MS" off his holiday to-dolist.
Researchers who study Multiple Sclerosis have many theories about whatcauses it. Some believe it's the environment, some think it's genetic, othersthink it's viral. Mellor, who was diagnosed with MS seven years ago, believesit's a combination of factors, and most researchers agree that MS is indeedmultifactorial. That's why his organization, the Accelerated Cure Project forMultiple Sclerosis, a national nonprofit organization based in Waltham,Massachusetts, is offering researchers around the country a unique opportunityto unlock the combination.
The Accelerated Cure Project for MS is in the midst of a campaign to raiseseveral million dollars to build and maintain the largest bio sample and databank for Multiple Sclerosis (and other demyelinating diseases) research. Bloodsamples from the biobank will be provided to MS researchers at almost no cost- as long as they share their results with the Accelerated Cure Project. Inreturn, Mellor's team will provide a continually updated data bank called the"Cure Map" that will correlate results from different research perspectivesand highlight interactions between factors that can lead to the development ofMS.
A Faster Route to the Cure
When Mellor was diagnosed with MS, he did what many people in hissituation do; try to learn as much as possible about this mysterious disease.What he learned however wasn't encouraging. In studying the availableliterature on MS research he was disappointed to discover that most resultswere considered to be inconclusive because of the limited number of samplesused in the research. Equally discouraging was his discovery that there was nomechanism in place that would enable researchers in different fields to cross-correlate the results of their findings
"As an engineer by training, it seemed clear to me that if you're lookingat a disease that is caused by a combination of factors, we could expeditefinding that combination by studying each factor using a common set of samplesand then correlating the results," says Mellor.
To overcome the barrier of limited sample size, his organization isdedicated to collecting thousands of samples and making them available toresearchers. To help connect the dots in the complex pattern of researchresults, his organization has created an interdisciplinary database that willhelp researchers uncover the most promising directions for future study, andthereby accelerate the cure by uncovering the causes.
According to Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, an Assistant Professor at JohnsHopkins School of Medicine for the Department of Neurology, "This is the mostcomprehensive approach to MS research to date. If this works, we might notonly have a model for curing MS, but other multifactorial diseases."
A hypothetical example might involve a geneticist who wants to look forunique genetic markers that may predispose people the develop MS and avirologist who is looking for evidence of past infections as potentialtriggers for MS. The Accelerated Cure Project would provide a common set ofsamples from people with MS to each researcher and enter the results of theirresearch into their database. Then they would use sophisticated data analysistechniques to search for patterns - such as a set of genes that coincide witha particular virus. Over time, discovery of patterns such as this would helpto eliminate some potential causes and im