The Pen Behind 'Potter' Establishes MS Research Institute

Author contributes $10M to establish the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic for MS research

(RxWiki News) Harry Potter scribe J.K. Rowling has donated £10 million to the University of Edinburgh to establish the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic.

The clinic -- named after the author's mother, who died of complications from multiple sclerosis (MS) at age 45 -- will serve as a research institute for MS and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Rowling has contributed to MS research throughout her wildly successful tenure as author of the Harry Potter series of children's books. She said when she first saw the proposal for the clinic, she knew she had found a project "more exciting, more innovative, and, I believe, more likely to succeed in unravelling the mysteries of MS" than any other she had read about or been asked to become a part of.

Work at the center builds on Edinburgh's clinical research into neurological disorders and in imaging of the brain and nervous system. Studies there also focus on other progressive, incurable neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS -- or Lou Gerhig's disease) with clinical academics working closely alongside researchers.

Rowling's gift marks the single largest donation in the University of Edinburgh's history.

Professor and University Principal Sir Timothy O'Shea said the funds will provide great help in the worldwide effort to improve treatments for MS.

Multiple Sclerosis is a progressive autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). MS episodes are caused by the body's immune system attacking the protective lining around nerves known as the myelin sheath. These attacks, or episodes, cause a variety of wide-ranging neurological symptoms -- including tingling sensations, muscle weakness, visual disturbances, even paralysis. Symptoms can be mild or debilitating, and, once damaged, nerve cells are not replaced, causing the condition to progressively worsen.

For the most part, MS remains an unpredictable, mysterious illness, and Rowling isn't the only famous writer whose life has been marked by the disease. Novelist and essayist Joan Didion, whose nonfiction account of a personal tragedy, The Year of Magical Thinking, won the National Book Award in 2005, was diagnosed with MS in the 1980s.

In her essay "After the Diagnosis," Didion outlines the unusual symptoms she experienced as a result of MS, including Lehrmitte's syndrome (in which the sensation of moving her head in a certain way produced an occasionally severe sensation of electrical shock) and another sudden sensation of water pouring down her leg, although it was dry.

In the essay, Didion relates her horror and awe of living with the chronic illness, predictable only in its persistence.

"I won't die from it," she wrote, "but I will die with it."

About 2.5 million people worldwide live with multiple sclerosis.

Review Date: 
January 7, 2011