- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

PAW PAW, Ill. (AP) Harold Ikeler had long thought something in his family caused the multiple sclerosis that killed his wife, put one daughter into a wheelchair and attacked two others.
Then two local women began compiling a list of Paw Paw residents and former residents with the disease that grew to 13 names. That got the retired farm-machinery salesman wondering whether something in this town of 850 people outside Rockford had caused all these cases.
"The ongoing theory is it needs a trigger to start it," said Mr. Ikeler, 70. "What the trigger is, I have no idea. It's a mystery."
That mystery has captured the attention of medical detectives. Researchers from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford are preparing to study multiple sclerosis here and in four other communities in western and central Illinois: Lewiston, Savanna, Morrison and DePue.
The study is one of five in the United States that have received about $100,000 each from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a sister agency to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Joel Cowen, head of the Health Systems Research Unit at the medical school, said Sunday the scientists were hoping to begin the study in the spring.
The researchers will try to verify what residents say they know: that the rates of the disorder are far higher in their towns than the national average of roughly one case in every 1,000 people. If true, the rates would be among the highest in the world.
"Lewiston has 2,700 people, and I've got 14 names," said Monica Smith, a resident who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago. "Something is drastically wrong here."
Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system, believed to be caused by immune cells attacking the protective myelin sheath surrounding bundles of nerves. Without this insulation, nerve impulses are interrupted, leading to mild, intermittent symptoms for some, and blindness, paralysis and even death from related infections in others.
"We're 16 times the national average," said Beth Buffington, who began researching the disease in Paw Paw after her best friend was diagnosed two years ago. Miss Buffington's lobbying of health officials helped get the town included in the study.

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