British Columbia

Unnamed donor gives record $33.8 million to MS research in B.C. with goal of saving lives

A $33.8 million donation has been made by an anonymous donor to advance research for multiple sclerosis (MS) in B.C. The University of British Columbia says it's the largest known donation for MS research worldwide. 

'Somebody cares. I want to thank that person because it means a lot to those of us who have MS': Heidi Scott

Researcher Megan Levings said she's overjoyed at the private donation made by an unnamed donor and the hope it brings for accelerated solutions and treatments. (Gabriel Osorio/CBC )

An unnamed, B.C.-based philanthropist has donated $33.8 million to advance research for multiple sclerosis (MS) in B.C.

The University of British Columbia says it's the largest known donation for MS research and care worldwide and will help fill the gaps in B.C. when it comes to increasing capacity and working on new therapies. 

It will also provide patients in the province with opportunities to join clinical trials that may have otherwise been hard to come by, the university says.

The dream is that it brings a cure.- Heidi Scott lives with MS

B.C. resident Heidi Scott has been living with MS since 2015. After eight years fighting the potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord, she says she's left speechless by the kindness of a stranger.

"Somebody cares ... I want to thank that person because it means a lot to those of us who have MS."

What is MS?

In MS, the immune system attacks an area that covers nerve fibres and causes a disconnect between the brain and the rest of the body.

Heidi Scott, who has been living with MS since 2015, says the donation and the research it will make possible gives her hope. (Submitted by Heidi Scott)

She said it has left her using immune-compromising therapies, but she has hope the millions of dollars donated will help to one day take her off of those medications.

"The dream is that it brings a cure. But in the meantime, it brings hope for cell-based therapies, which we don't have access to in B.C.," she said.

Scott isn't alone in that hope.

Megan Levings, a professor at UBC and an investigator at the B.C. Children's Hospital Research Institute, says the funding will not only go toward potential new cell therapies for patients and research toward finding a cure but will also help fund a new building to expand the work already being done.

"With this funding, we'll finally be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together under one umbrella ... giving access to brand new innovative therapies in a way that wasn't possible before."

Levings said the donation will also go toward recruiting world-leading scientists to develop cell and gene therapies.

According to the UBC faculty of medicine, Vancouver General Hospital and the UBC Hospital Foundation, Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, with more than 4,000 people newly diagnosed each year. 

When Scott was diagnosed at 42, she said she didn't know what was next for her, but she says a donation of this magnitude gives her hope.

"Having the research in B.C. means that ... B.C. patients with MS will have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zahra Premji

Host/Reporter

Zahra Premji is a host/reporter for CBC News Vancouver. She has worked as a host for CBC Alberta News in Edmonton, and a reporter in B.C. and Manitoba on various stories from racism to health and crime to asylum seekers and immigration. You can reach her at zahra.premji@cbc.ca

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