Multiple System Atrophy Research Leads to Repeat Gift

Dr. Brandt, Dr. Ide, and Frank CervoneDr. Charles Ide, Western Michigan University Gwen Frostic Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of the Great Lakes Environmental and Molecular Sciences Center, has been researching a deadly and debilitating form of Parkinson's disease called Multiple System Atrophy. His interest in MSA was one that developed when he was recruited to do the first global gene expression study on MSA brain tissue. Ide was contacted because he was using new genomics based tools to define biochemical pathways explaining the exact molecular underpinnings of environmental based diseases. After his findings on MSA were published, he presented a talk at an MSA conference in Nashville, Tenn., and seeing the impact on the lives of both the patients and caregivers increased his interest in MSA and set him on a mission to do more.

In 2010, Frank Cervone was diagnosed with MSA. During his search for treatments and the latest research, he discovered Ide. Cervone was impressed with Ide's research and a partnership was born. Interested in helping to advance Ide's research, Cervone made the decision to send all of the proceeds from the Dayton Barefoot Runners 5-mile run to benefit MSA research to WMU. Since 2012, the Dayton Barefoot Runners group has donated nearly $30,000 to WMU to benefit the research taking place in Ide's lab. On May 9, 2014, Cervone, his wife Susan, and Dr. Doug Brandt, the creator of the Barefoot Runners campaign to increase MSA awareness, made the drive from Dayton, Ohio to Kalamazoo, Mich., to deliver a third donation to WMU from the most recent race. When presenting the gift to Ide, Cervone said, "We give here because we know 100% of it goes to research."

Dr. Ide's lab

The lab at WMU has shown that in MSA, similar to Parkinson’s disease, problems with the part of the cell that creates energetic compounds cause a normal protein called alpha synuclein to misfold (fold into an incorrect structure). In Parkinson's the neurons that make the protein die. In MSA, the neurons eject the misfolded protein and nearby cells that provide insulation for the wire-like part of the neuron pick up the synuclein and then die. Through his research, Ide's gene expression data on MSA brain cells and studies on cell "death” inducing proteins in MSA, have in part defined the biochemical pathways that are involved. Once these cells start to die, there appears to be an autoimmune response against the deteriorating insulation. Ide and his team are following two tracks in their current research:

  • Develop a tissue culture model of MSA for screening drugs and natural compounds that could help MSA patients.
  • Continue studies on MSA brain tissue regarding the possible autoimmune component of MSA.

Contributors to MSA research at WMU

MSA researcherIn addition to many Department of Biological Sciences faculty, both undergraduate and graduate students have contributed publication quality data to MSA research including Ashley Bostic, Paul Caccamo, Elizabeth Haworth-Hoeppner, Derrick Hilton, Junjie Hu, Karen Van Wagner, Jeff Walburn and Megan Welter, all of whom have graduated from WMU. Annamarie Valenti, a current graduate student, and Emelia Moore, a current undergraduate student, are working on the cell culture model. Dr. Bharti Katbamna, WMU professor of Speech Pathology and Audiology, has also contributed laboratory and statistical expertise.