Jan 26, 2003
By Martha E. Mangelsdorf, Globe Correspondent
Each month in ''Transitions,'' we profile individuals who have made significant changes in their work lives -- and highlight the techniques they used to make the changes.
Art Mellor, 40
Career transition: After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Mellor cofounded a nonprofit focused on organizing efforts to cure the disease.
What he used to do: Mellor was chief technology officer of Gold Wire Technology Inc., a firm he cofounded in 1997.
What he does now: Mellor is president of the Boston Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis.
Making the change: When Mellor learned he had multiple sclerosis in 2000, he wanted to know more about the disease. ''Being an engineer and a nerd, I needed to know 'What's all the information I can get on this?' '' he recalls.
First he went on the Internet to find information about MS, a chronic, frequently disabling disease that affects the central nervous system by destroying a substance called myelin. While MS is not considered fatal, it can result in a range of symptoms, from numbness to cognitive problems and seizures, according to the Web site of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. And the symptoms may worsen over time.
After the Internet research, Mellor turned to books on the subject but found they were mostly focused on helping people adapt to disabilities. So Mellor, who has an engineering degree from MIT, began reading neurology textbooks and research paper collections. ''And that's when I started to become a bit concerned,'' he says. He began talking to scientists and researchers, and he says they confirmed his sense that not a lot is known about what causes MS.
At first, Mellor thought about going back to school to get a biology degree and become a researcher. But he realized that there were plenty of smart scientists doing MS research. What he didn't see was a big-picture game plan for research. And Mellor, who had cofounded several technology start-ups, was used to tackling projects by creating plans, steps, and milestones.
Mellor talked with his neurologist, Dr. Tim Vartanian, about the way MS research is conducted. Together, they decided to form the Boston Cure Project (http://www.bostoncure.org). The nonprofit would focus on creating a ''Cure Map'' - essentially a game plan outlining the steps necessary to find the causes of MS. Vartanian, chief of the demyelinating diseases division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, explains that the aim of the Boston Cure Project is to identify what needs to be done in MS research, identify the research gaps, and find the right people to fill them. Vartanian sees the Boston Cure Project as ''a strategic effort in MS research.''
Deciding to tackle a daunting problem isn't unusual for Mellor. ''It's totally consistent with everything he's ever done,'' says Peter Schmidt, who in 1992 cofounded a company called Midnight Networks with Mellor and two other MIT alumni.
''Art's a consummate entrepreneur,'' Schmidt explains. Figuring out how to do things better and solve problems has always been central to Mellor, according to Schmidt.
Mellor's decision to leave his role as chief technology officer at Gold Wire Technology was a ''double whammy,'' says Jonathan Wolf, chief executive and cofounder of the Waltham maker of access and configuration control products for data networks. ''Not only was I out a CTO, but Art's a good friend of mine,'' he says. Wolf says the two worked out a transition plan, and Mellor remained a board member. In addition, the Boston Cure Project sublets office space from Gold Wire Technology.
Mellor says the Boston Cure Project, which was founded in 2001, has scientific advisers, four full-time employees, and about 150 volunteers. Last year it raised about $250,000. He says working in a nonprofit has ''opened up my world to a completely different set of people'' than the high-tech community he had long worked with.
It also required new skills. ''Running a nonprofit is difficult,'' Mellor admits. One challenge is raising money; another is learning to get things done with volunteers who, while ''fantastic,'' have busy lives and other obligations.
Moving to the nonprofit world also meant a pay cut; in his first year, Mellor says he made about 1/15th of his previous salary as CTO of a young technology company. Now he's making about 1/6 of his CTO salary. Although Mellor profited from the sale of Midnight Networks in 1996, ''I still have to work - especially having been diagnosed with MS,'' and knowing that his health may deteriorate, he says.
Mellor says that, although his disease is progressing, he's relatively
unaffected right now in his ability to work. However, he does experience
symptoms that range from bladder problems to numbness in his hands or legs,
to occasional trouble remembering names. Still, working for the Boston
Cure Project ''keeps me upbeat about the disease,'' Mellor says. ''I feel
like I'm doing something.''
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