Cellucci takes ALS fight to center field at Fenway

Former Gov. Cellucci will announce effort to raise $10 million for UMMS’ ALS research

By Mark Shelton

UMass Medical School Communications

May 18, 2011

Gov. Cellucci and Dr Brown 
Photo by John Gillooly, Professional Event Images

Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, right, talks to Liz Brunner of WCVB’s Chronicle with former Gov. Paul Cellucci, who will announce on Thursday, May 19, an initiative to raise millions of dollars for ALS research.

Understanding firsthand the critical need for new treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci will announce plans to raise millions of dollars in support of ALS research breakthroughs happening at UMass Medical School and in the laboratory of Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, one of the world’s most prominent ALS researchers and chair of the Department of Neurology. 

The fundraising initiative, to be called the UMass/ALS Champion Fund (www.UMassALS.com), will be introduced by Gov. Cellucci in a special event at Fenway Park on Thursday, May 19, before the Red Sox take on the Detroit Tigers. In support of the launch, and in recognition of his distinguished predecessor, Gov. Deval Patrick has declared Thursday, May 19, 2011, as “Paul Cellucci/ALS Champion Day” in the commonwealth. The Fenway event will also feature city representatives, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who will declare the day as “Champion Day” in the city through a formal proclamation. 

Cellucci announced in January that he has been diagnosed with ALS and is being treated by Dr. Brown at UMass Memorial Medical Center, the clinical partner of UMMS. 

News of Cellucci’s diagnosis ignited an outpouring of support from friends, colleagues and elected officials across the commonwealth and the country, including Menino, former Governor Jane Swift and former White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who will join Cellucci for “Champion Day” and the fund launch at Fenway Park on Thursday. Gov. Patrick and all of the former governors of Massachusetts have agreed to serve as honorary chairs of Cellucci’s fundraising effort. 

Brown is widely recognized as a pioneer in neurodegenerative disease research. For 30 years, he has dedicated himself to unlocking the secrets of ALS, an invariably fatal degenerative disorder that causes progressive muscle weakness, leading to paralysis, and death, within five years of diagnosis. There is no treatment that does anything but even slightly slow the progression. Brown has been a leading visionary for ALS treatment and part of nearly every fundamental ALS breakthrough to date, including the identification of mutations in a gene that is responsible for 20 to 25 percent of the familial form of the disease. Brown’s discovery opened a window into ALS that has changed the research landscape profoundly and given people something quite rare in the field of ALS: hope. 

“The Champion Fund is about all of us coming together to help Dr. Brown and his colleagues pursue leads and breakthroughs now, rather than waiting the years it might take to attract funding from traditional sources,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “The resulting fund will make us better prepared to ‘seize the moment’ when highly promising new discoveries about ALS are made. 

The Champion Fund aims to extend and supplement the already great fundraising initiatives benefiting UMMS and Dr. Brown and team. “We have been very fortunate to receive support from a diversity of groups, including the locally-based organization Angel Fund and national partner CVS Pharmacy, both of which have been raising money for this laboratory and acting as champions in the fight against ALS for more than 10 years,” said Brown. “The Champion Fund will allow us to complement those funding sources so that we will all work together to augment the overall effort.” 

To become a “champion” in the fight against ALS, or for more information on the UMass ALS Champion Fund and the promising work of Brown and his research colleagues, visit www.UMassALS.com, or join the fight onFacebook or Twitter

Cellucci, a native of Hudson, has kept an active schedule despite his diagnosis and has enjoyed a “quiet, private life” with his family since leaving public office after 35 years. Cellucci graduated Boston College in 1970 and Boston College Law School in 1973; he won his first state-wide position—state representative—in 1976. In 1990, he became lieutenant governor under William F. Weld and rose to acting governor in 1997, when Weld stepped down to become U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Cellucci was elected governor outright in 1998 and held the post until 2001, when then-president George W. Bush named him ambassador to Canada. Four years later, Cellucci left the ambassadorship to work in the private sector and today practices law with the Boston law firm McCarter & English. 

Related Links 

Newsmaker: Gov. Cellucci announces endowment for ALS research 
A pitch to raise millions for ALS research
UMass ALS Champion Fund website
UMass ALS Champion Fund on Facebook
UMass ALS Champion Fund on Twitter