New campaign will expand MS, autoimmune research

For more than a decade, OMRF has been a world leader in autoimmune disease research and, in 2011, it opened the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence.

The addition expanded the foundation’s research in autoimmune diseases, which include MS, lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis, but there’s still more to do, said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D.

“Our vision has always been to provide a place where treatment and research meet, which is why we’re launching a campaign that will help us expand our autoimmune work in both the clinic and laboratory,” he said.

The Eureka Moments campaign will raise $5 million to recruit two new MS-focused scientists—a researcher and a physician—and a new clinical researcher for other autoimmune diseases. The project will also expand lab space and fund more patient care at OMRF. Already, state and national groups have stepped up to provide more than $1 million.

Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the body turns the weapons of its immune system against itself. These illnesses affect 5 to 8 percent of the U.S. population and are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in annual medical bills.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that damages the ability of the nervous system to carry signals to and from the brain. Inflammation causes damage to myelin, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this covering is damaged, nerve impulses are slowed and sometimes blocked all together. The disease carries with it a variety of symptoms, including problems with vision, tremors, paralysis, painful spasms, imbalance, and cognitive changes.

“The world of multiple sclerosis treatments is moving quickly and new therapeutics are on the way, but they can never come fast enough for patients and families dealing with a disease that progressively shuts down control over their own bodies,” said MS Center of Excellence Director Gabriel Pardo, M.D. “By marrying clinical care and laboratory research, we can ensure that future MS patients will have better treatment than ever before.”

Toward the $5 million goal, the Kerr Foundation has awarded OMRF a $100,000 challenge grant, which requires the foundation to raise a matching $50,000 by September 2013 and another $50,000 by September 2014.

Lead donations to the campaign include:

  • $500,000 from the Choctaw Nation
  • $200,000 from the Hearst Foundation
  • $100,000 from the Dillingham Family in honor of Lori Dillingham Evans

“The logical next step for the MS Center of Excellence is the addition of new physicians and researchers,” said campaign co-chair Jim Morris. “The MS clinic sees almost 3,000 patients annually. Help is needed. We also need a researcher to work in conjunction with OMRF’s world-class autoimmune research group. Our goal is to provide outstanding care while searching for a cure.”

Those interested in more information can email Penny-Voss@omrf.org or call (405) 271-7400.