At 45, J K Rowling is now the same age as her mother was when she succumbed to the ravages of multiple sclerosis. Anne Rowling's untimely death in 1990 – five years before her daughter first gave the world Harry Potter – has had a profound and lasting influence on the writer, who has been a vocal champion for sufferers of the degenerative disease ever since.
Now the creator of the bespectacled boy wizard, one of the most lucrative film and publishing phenomena of modern times, is putting her considerable wealth behind the mission to find a cure for the disease.
It was announced yesterday that the author had donated £10m to build a new clinic which she hopes will one day "unravel the mysteries" of MS. As well as investigating the causes and treatment of the condition, helping doctors to slow and eventually reverse the symptoms of the illness, the new centre at Edinburgh University – which will bear her late mother's name – is intended to become a world leader in research into other currently incurable neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neurone disease.
The donation, one of the most generous that Ms Rowling has given to date and the largest ever received by Edinburgh University, comes a year after she resigned as a long-serving patron of the MS Society Scotland following a bitter row between the charity and its London headquarters over reorganisation plans.
But she has continued to support efforts to battle the condition, criticising the Scottish Medicines Consortium when it advised against prescribing the drug Tysabri on cost grounds, and giving substantial financial support to a new research unit also at Edinburgh University in 2007.
Ms Rowling, who is the seventh-richest person in Scotland with an estimated fortune of £519m, said her home city had already attracted some of the best clinicians and researchers in the field of neurodegeneration, and that the new clinic would put patients at the centre of any advances when it is completed next year. The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic will be based in a purpose-built premises next to the city's Royal Infirmary.
"I have supported research into the cause and treatment of multiple sclerosis for many years now, but when I first saw the proposal for this clinic, I knew that I had found a project more exciting, more innovative, and, I believe, more likely to succeed in unravelling the mysteries of MS than any other I had read about or been asked to fund," she said.
Anne Rowling was 34 when she first began to suffer from pins and needles in her arm, and was diagnosed with MS the following year. Five years later, she relied on a wheelchair every day.
"At first, life went on much as usual, perhaps too much as usual. My mother made few, if any, concessions to her illness," Ms Rowling said, adding that she wept every time she wrote about her mother. "I saw her for the last time just before Christmas 1990. She was extremely thin and looked exhausted. I don't know how I didn't realise how ill she was."
MS affects about 100,000 people in the UK, and Scotland has one of the highest rates of sufferers. While doctors know that the disease causes myelin, a protective layer surrounding nerve cells in the brain, to break down, leading to symptoms such as numbness, fatigue and weakness, the exact cause is still not understood.
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