Getting closer to a cure – one mile at a time

Getting closer to a cure – one mile at a time Greg Stone, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Amber Lingor, Orlando, FL and Sarah Krier, Denver, CO travel down Cherry Street to the finish line early Saturday afternoon after biking from Sioux Falls to Vermillion. They joined more than 200 bikers that participated in last weekend's Dakota Chapter MS 150 Bike Tour. by David Lias It was fitting that Vermillion was a stopping-off place for the MS 150 Bike Tour Saturday.

More than 200 bikers raised tens of thousands of dollars by pedaling from Sioux Falls south to Vermillion.

Other states hold similar fund raisers to help researchers hopefully find a cure for multiple sclerosis. And about 40 percent of the funds raised in those states goes to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which plows the money back in to research.

South Dakota and Vermillion are unique, however. The funds raised by Saturday's bike tour not only stay in South Dakota. Much of it ends up at The University of South Dakota, where MS research is underway.

"Each rider has to pay a $30 registration fee, and then they have to raise a minimum of $200 in pledges," said Kathie Brown, president of the Dakota Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Sioux Falls. "They can do this as an individual or they can do this as teams."

Individuals or teams that raise more than the minimum $200 in pledges receive jerseys and gift certificates to participating bike shops.

"This year we had 220 riders who raised $83,000," Brown said. "It's wonderful. And besides the riders, there were also about 150 volunteers who helped us out."

Brown said the popularity of biking had been waning in recent years.

"It hit a peak in the 1995-96 time frame. We had about 480 riders then. The numbers had gone down, but now they're building back up, so we're pretty happy with results this year," she said.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling, disease that randomly attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild such as numbness or tingling in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.

The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted. MS is thought to be an auto-immune disease. The body's own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers of the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord.

The damaged myelin may form scar tissue (scleroris). Most people with MS learn to cope with the disease.

"We are a grass roots operation, so we send 40 percent (of funds raised) to our national office," Brown said. "That 40 percent is for national programs

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and research. However, the Dakota Chapter is unique because we get all of that money back in the chapter with Robin and Keith Miskimins, who are researchers at the medical school in Vermillion.

"They receive grants from the MS Society for their research into MS," she said. "So when we talk about the funds and what's raised by the Dakota Chapter, essentially we can say that about 95 percent of what's raised stays right here in the chapter."

Researchers still haven't pinpointed a cause or a cure for multiple sclerosis. They've made great progress in recent years by developing new drugs to help individuals with MS cope with the disease.

"There's been phenomenal progress since 1996," Brown said. "We now have four drug therapies now on the market. They hold the disease where it is at until we find a cure."

There are five federally approved medications that treat MS. Four of them � Avonex, Betaseron, Rebif and Copaxone � have been shown to be effective in modifying the natural course of relapsing MS.

The fifth drug, Novantrone, is effective in slowing down MS that is rapidly worsening or becoming progressive.

Steroids may be used to shorten acute attacks. Many other therapies are being clinically tested, and researchers feel hopeful that more treatments for MS will be available in the near future.

Participants in the MS 150 Bike Tour were treated to a Saturday evening banquet in the Main Commons at USD.

At 7 a.m. Sunday, they pedaled back to Sioux Falls to complete the second leg of their bike run. The event ended with a barbecue at the Sioux Falls Canaries Stadium.

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