Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 14:03 GMT
The best-selling writer JK Rowling has given her backing to a university project hoping to solve some of the mysteries of multiple sclerosis (MS).
The MS Society Scotland, of which Rowling is patron, has given a grant to the University of Aberdeen to create a special research group.
The author of the Harry Potter novels, whose mother died 10 years after being diagnosed with MS, has donated an undisclosed amount to the project.
About 10,500 people have MS in Scotland and access to treatment has been described as resembling a lottery.
Earlier this year, Rowling was reported to be outraged at the shortage of MS nurses north of the border.
The millionaire author and her husband, Neil Murray, who are expecting their first child, recently hosted a lavish fundraising ball for the MS Society Scotland at Stirling Castle, which raised £275,000.
The ball was held on the 12th anniversary of the death of her mother, Anne, at the age of 45, in 1990, after suffering from MS.
The society is putting up £500,000 to fund the new work in Aberdeen with the author donating a "significant" amount.
Ms Rowling said: "I'm proud to be supporting this vital research fellowship through which some of the best experts in the field are joining forces to strike back at MS.
"I became patron of the MS Society Scotland in early 2001 after I discovered the appallingly poor quality of care available to people with MS in Scotland, the MS capital of the world.
"Since then I've been heartened by the huge strides the MS Society Scotland
are making but there is still so much to do, especially in the field of
Multiple Sclerosis is the most common cause of neurological disability in young adults and women with MS outnumber men by two to one.
It is hoped that the research project will be able to explain the reasons for this and other mysteries such as why MS is more common further north of the equator.
The group will also consider the genetic or environmental factors which could trigger MS.
The newly-appointed senior fellow, Professor Chris Linington, and his colleagues will be working to devise better ways to diagnose MS and to predict its activity.
Prof Linnington said: "There's certainly been a drive towards centralising research resources.
"And of course this is basically, one could say, almost starved smaller universities over funding resources, which is why Aberdeen is delighted with the chance to set up a completely new research unit."
The team will also be working to develop more effective treatments.
The MS Research Group will be accommodated in new facilities in the university's School of Medical Sciences.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition of the central nervous system which impairs the brain's ability to transmit instructions to the muscles.
There is currently no cure for MS but there is a medicine that can modify its course in some people.
Effects of MS include blurred vision, other sensory loss, weakness, impotence and the inability to walk.
There are approximately 10,400 people in Scotland with MS.
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