By Katy TerBerg
“Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) is what I would describe as a puzzle with 1000 pieces that a minute number of researchers are strategically putting together piece by piece,” notes Ashley McKinney-Bostic, a master’s student in the Department of Biological Sciences. “I have seen, firsthand, the daily suffering of an MSA sufferer, and the severe symptoms that worsen over time.”
Is there a cure for Muscular System Atrophy (MSA) anywhere on the near horizon? Researchers at Western Michigan University aren’t sure, but they are finding consistencies in their research leading them to some hopeful results. Ashley McKinney-Bostic is one of those researchers (now a graduate) and she talks about how MSA awareness has led her to do her research.
“My initial interest in science actually started with a love for animals as a child,” said Ashley McKinney-Bostic, a graduate student at WMU pursuing a master’s in biological sciences. “Upon my acceptance to Western Michigan University, my major was biological sciences, as I wanted to become a doctor. During my undergrad career, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor and researcher,” she said.
She and other researchers, along with Professor Charles Ide of the Environmental Studies Program at WMU, have been working tirelessly to raise awareness of and research activities for MSA, a neurological disease in which autonomic functions of the body, such as blood pressure, and internal organs slowly atrophy or shut down as a result of rapidly depleting muscle tissue.
McKinney-Bostic’s research focused on the promising, “CD68 Immune Cell Involvement in Purkinje Cell Degeneration in the Cerebellum of Multiple System Atrophy Patients.” She tested the hypothesis that CD68 cells are associated with neuropathology, including Purkinje cells, which normally function as a means of cleaning up diseases.
For the past several years, MSA patient Sylvia (Sue) Summers and husband Bob, have been warriors for MSA and have worked in cooperation with WMU to accelerate efforts for a cure. The Summers began Miracles for MSA, a charity to raise awareness and promote treatments for the disease. Much of McKinney-Bostic’s interest derived from their tireless efforts to promote awareness.
As a researcher, McKinney-Bostic has learned the trials and tragedies of MSA, and lamented,”Could you imagine not being able to converse with your family and friends, walk, enjoy eating your favorite meal, and struggle to carry out life’s daily activities? MSA sufferers are faced with these challenges daily. This is why I embraced MSA research. I wanted to help put the pieces to the puzzle of MSA together, even if it was only a few pieces.”
Other researchers hard at work on the MSA puzzle include:
- Derrick Hilton, Ph.D. student about to defend his thesis on proteins, including immune system proteins, involved in cell death in a tissue culture model for MSA and in MSA brain tissues.
- Karen VanWagner, a master’s student who is studying MS like immune cells in the MSA brain
- Megan Welter, a master’s student who looks at special immune system proteins that allow them to enter the MSA brain, an organ that does not normally allow entry of immune system cells
- Junjie Hu, a master’s student who is looking at immune system proteins in the MSA brain that can be indicative of other aspects of MS.
- Jessica Song, a just-graduated undergraduate who is helping VanWagner analyze MS type immune cell frequency in the MSA brain.
- Subhanwita Paul, a new Ph.D. program student who will revisit our gene expression data from blood cells of MSA and control patients to further establish an autoimmune link to MSA pathology.
Editor’s Note: Sue Summers passed away Friday, May 4 after a long and active battle with MSA. Condolences go to her husband, Bob, and Susan’s friends and family during this difficult time. Sue Summers was no doubt a warrior in the battle to fight MSA.
In lieu of flowers, Summers has asked donations be directed to: Western Michigan University, College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Charles Ide, 1903 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo, MI 49008. Make checks payable to Western Michigan University MSA fund or donate online here.