Kent State and Oak Clinic team up to alleviate suffering, pain from MS

Julianna Frantz

There is no known cause and no cure for multiple sclerosis, but researchers at the university have created a partnership hoping to someday change this reality.

The university announced it joined together with the Oak Clinic to create The Oak Clinic/Kent State University Consortium for Multiple Sclerosis and Neurodegenerative Disease Research.

The Oak Clinic was founded in 2001 and is a charity-based treatment facility. The original mission of the clinic was to provide indigent care for people with multiple sclerosis in Summit County, said James Blank, chair for the Department of Biological Sciences.

The clinic also wanted to establish a research division for both clinical and basic research, said Ernest Freeman, Oak Clinic’s head of basic research and assistant research professor at the university.

In 2002, the Oak Clinic contacted Freeman, who at the time was the coordinator for internal medicine at Akron General Medical Center, to help find an institution with facilities equipped to conduct this type of research.

After an extensive search of all available facilities in the area, Kent State was chosen for the partnership, Freeman said.

“We came here because of the level of expertise, faculty and unmatched facilities in the area,” he said.

The university has outstanding facilities to conduct research with all of the newest state-of-the-art equipment necessary, Freeman said.

Original contact with the university was made through Blank.

Blank said it took about a year to organize, and in 2003 a formal relationship was established, dedicated to seeking new information on the cause and treatment of MS.

The research is being conducted as a group effort, Blank said. Several departments are involved including the Department of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry, Computer Science and Mathematics, allowing for an interdisciplinary look at the disease.

Twenty-six people are involved in MS research on campus, Blank said.

The facilities for molecular, genomic and proteomic research are outstanding, Freeman said, adding that the study of MS is very complex and involves many different areas of science.

Historically, MS has been considered an auto-immune disorder. MS is a disorder where one’s immune system attacks the central nervous system, causing lesions in the brain and spinal cord. As a result, a person can suffer significant disability, Freeman said.

“However we think a crucial component of MS and the progression of the disease are related to a loss of neurons,” Freeman said.

That is why researchers here at the university are looking at the neurodegenerative component of the disease, Freeman said.

“We are looking at the death and dysfunction of nerves cells and mechanisms that control those events,” Freeman said.

Freeman said he would like to see graduate nursing students become involved in research because of the role nursing plays in the treatment of MS. He would also like to involve departments that could help with the mental aspects of the disease.

Since people with MS rarely die from the disease, these aspects of care become integral to the treatment of the patient and their families, according to Dr. Robert Dorman, director of the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

Multiple sclerosis is costly, Freeman said. An estimated $10 billion is spent nationally toward MS by the health care system each year, with an estimated $3 million in an average patient’s lifetime.

MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Symptoms are unpredictable, ranging from numbness and weakness to total paralysis.

MS is a prime-of-life disease, according to the society, striking most commonly between the ages of 20 and 50.

Freeman said that it is nice to work with something that has real world applications.

“As a scientist you can’t ask for more than that,” Freeman said. “Kent has really shown a significant interest in what we do.”

Sometimes it is hard for people to see why research is so important to the world at large, Blank said. It’s not only important for the university to educate, but to produce new knowledge for society, he added.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Ohio Buckeye Chapter, more than 15,000 people in Ohio have been diagnosed with MS.

The number of MS patients in Northeastern Ohio is greater than any other geographical location in the United States and three to four times greater than in most other areas of the country.

Multiple sclerosis is the most common debilitating disease among young Americans, and a new case of MS is diagnosed every hour of every day, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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Contact sciences reporter Julianna Frantz at [email protected].