The McCourt Foundation's Tour de South Shore biking event supports neurological research into the innovative use of imaging to track and diagnose diseases.

For 42 years, Brian McCourt and his six brothers watched their parents, Mary and Robert, raise their family in Wellesley, Mass. Mary ran the home and Robert ran a business while he coped with the challenges of multiple sclerosis (MS). Robert died in 1991. Not long after, Mary was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which she struggled with until her death in 2008. The perseverance of Mary and Robert McCourt inspired their sons to start a philanthropic endeavor that aims to help patients and families with neurological disorders. It also gave the McCourt brothers a deep appreciation of the time and effort behind the neurological research they help fund.

Brian McCourt
Brian McCourt

Consider their financial support of Eric C. Klawiter, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Neurology. The McCourt Foundation has donated $45,000 to Dr. Klawiter’s research of multiple sclerosis (MS) through ultra high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It’s an innovative approach that is already offering signs that it’s an effective way to track and diagnose MS.

Tour de South Shore

Recognizing the promise of such neurological research, the McCourt Foundation will again host its signature fundraising event, the Tour de South Shore on Oct. 1, 2016. Participants can bike 25 or 50 miles through the southern Massachusetts communities of Hingham, Cohasset, Scituate and Norwell — or they can do a new 5K walk in Wompatuck State Park. They can later enjoy a post-event tailgate with a full lunch and a tasting tent featuring small portions by local restaurants. Each participant will be asked to raise at least $200 to help fight MS, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease.

The McCourt brothers organized their first Tour de South Shore in 1992. Their efforts did so well that they created the foundation in 2004. Since that first bike event, the McCourts have raised more than $6 million.

Multiple Sclerosis Researcher Takes Sharper Look

For the fourth straight year, Dr. Klawiter will strap on his bicycle shoes and join a team of Mass General colleagues on a 25-mile ride as part of the tour. They will raise money and awareness for his neurological research and the McCourt Foundation’s larger effort to support neurological disorder research and education. Proceeds will also provide financial assistance to patients and their families.

“Each year we’ve continued to increase fundraising and that’s come with building the riding team from Mass General,” Dr. Klawiter says. “It’s a really great event, and well run.”

The Start of Something Promising

Brian McCourt reached out to Dr. Klawiter four years ago, curious about the neurologist’s research. After meeting the doctor and seeing the MRI in action, Mr. McCourt was convinced his family’s foundation had to partner with Dr. Klawiter’s research team and Mass General.

“The work he’s doing in imaging, it’s giving the ability to diagnose sooner and pinpoint better,” Mr. McCourt says. “It really is accelerating the way you can treat patients with MS.”

Eric Klawiter, MD
Eric Klawiter, MD

Dr. Klawiter uses a super-fast MRI scanner at Mass General to study connections in the living brain. Developed as part of the National Institutes of Health Human Connectome Project, it’s widely considered to be a remarkable approach to MS research.

The Tour de South Shore and the McCourt Foundation have helped Dr. Klawiter’s neurological research by financially supporting pilot projects that can be conducted more quickly than if his team waited to be approved for grant money. When a research project can get off the ground immediately and show definitive progress, Dr. Klawiter says, it becomes a lot easier to then apply for grants and sustain momentum.

Partnering for Neurological Research

That expediency helped Dr. Klawiter and his team present the findings of a McCourt Foundation-backed project at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. Tests conducted with the MRI scanner found that the brain actually doesn’t increase its connectivity to compensate for the pathology of MS, as previously hypothesized, but instead may reflect disconnection between neural networks. This insight will help interpret findings in clinical trials and define how measures for tracking MS will change over time, which affects how treatments are evaluated.

“Philanthropy gets projects like these started faster.”

“It’s important to understand the meaning of how some of these measures change over time in MS,” Dr. Klawiter says. “And philanthropy gets projects like these started faster.”

That’s the type of perseverance and partnership that Mr. McCourt appreciates.

“Eric rolls up his sleeves and gets involved,” he says. “He truly has partnered with the McCourt Foundation, and he’s helped us help him. We look forward to doing much more with and for Eric and Mass General in the future.”

To learn about how you can support research focused on the fight against multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases, please contact us.