Multiple sclerosis, which affects about 400,000 people in the United States, is a neurological disease in which the body's immune system attacks the myelin, a fatty sheath that surrounds nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
It affects more women than men, and usually strikes people between the ages of 20 and 50. No one knows exactly what causes it. Symptoms can include mild and partial paralysis.
Most people, like Linda Farra, have what's called Relapsing-Remitting MS, which is marked by flare-ups of neurological symptoms followed by partial or total remission, during which the disease doesn't progress.
And, like Linda, many people then reach a "secondary-progressive" stage in which the disease worsens more steadily.
Still, most people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy and the majority don't become severely disabled.
The University of Pennsylvania is the center of pioneering research under Dr. Laura Balcer. With fierce competition for research money and medical inflation outpacing flat government grants, Penn is grateful for the help from private fundraisers like the one organized by Farra's daughter, Kristin.
"We are poised to have great break-throughs in treatment and yet there is an enormous need for additional money," said Dr. Francisco Gonzalez-Scarano, chair of Penn's neurology department. *