Twenty Years of Art and Science

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the MDA Art Collection, and as the Collection has grown over the last two decades, great strides also have been made in MDA-funded neuromuscular disease research

“In the Zone,” an acrylic painting by Carlos Serbia that was accepted into the MDA Art Collection in 2008. Serbia, who has Becker muscular dystrophy, says he was inspired by the lush colors and fresh spirit breezes of the Caribbean, and the struggles and desires of human personality.
Article Highlights:
  • In celebration of the MDA Art Collection’s 20th anniversary, Quest presents a selection of art from the past 20 years, paired with discoveries in neuromuscular disease research that took place at the same time.
  • The Art Collection was established in 1992 to focus attention on the achievements of artists with disabilities and to emphasize that physical disability is no barrier to creativity. On permanent display at MDA National Headquarters in Tucson, Ariz., the Collection includes more than 385 original works by adults and children who have any of the neuromuscular disorders in MDA's program.
  • Artists in the Collection represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and range in age from 2 to 84.
by Quest Staff on July 1, 2012 - 3:00pm

QUEST Vol. 19, No. 3

"Art and science coincide,” opined poet and playwright Bertoit Brecht, “insofar as both aim to improve the lives of men and women.” In celebration of the MDA Art Collection’s 20th anniversary in July, here’s a small selection from the Collection’s more than 385 pieces, paired with research. The entire MDA Art Collection can be viewed online, as well as the complete research news archives at MDA News


The Art Collection was born at the beginning of a prolific decade in which genetic causes were identified for most of the diseases in MDA’s program. In 1992, genetic defects were found for forms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and myotonic muscular dystrophy (MMD or DM). Also this year, Edwin G. Krebs and Edmond H. Fischer, both of whom had received MDA grants, were awarded the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries that helped clarify the malfunctions that occur in some neuromuscular diseases.

Pictured: Untitled (watercolor) by Stacey Wilson (b. 1971; type 1 spinal muscular atrophy), Houston



Summer at the Cape


By 1997, researchers had identified genetic causes for forms of familial ALS, Becker MD (BMD) and Duchenne MD (DMD), periodic paralysis, Emery-Dreifuss MD, Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), limb-girdle MD (LGMD) and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Making news were the approval of riluzole for ALS; the increasing use of prednisone to treat DMD; and gene therapy for various diseases. Among its activities in 1997, MDA funded trials of intravenous immunoglobulin therapy in myasthenia gravis (MG) and identified mislocation of cellular iron as a biochemical cause of FA.

Pictured: Summer at the Cape (oil) by Ronald Abbott (b. 1928; limb-girdle muscular dystrophy), Sanford, Maine



As 2003 drew to a close, flawed genes had been identified  for oculopharyngeal MD and nemaline myopathy, and the mystery surrounding the genetics of facioscapulohumeral MD (FSHD) was beginning to crack. The therapeutic possibilities of stem cells were generating excitement; an experimental enzyme replacement therapy was prolonging the survival of infants with Pompe disease; and boosting glutamate transport looked promising in ALS mice.

Pictured: Ambassador Red (acrylic) by Dwain Smith (b. 1945; limb-girdle muscular dystrophy), Paducah, Ky.

Ambassador Red



The new millennium saw the “translation” of promising laboratory discoveries into experimental treatments. Passage of the MD-CARE Act in 2000 (for which MDA advocated) led to the establishment of three Centers of Excellence in MD research. The lifesaving drug Myozyme was approved for use in Pompe disease — the first definitive treatment for a disease under MDA’s umbrella. In 2008, human trials were under way for three DMD experimental therapies: stop codon read-through, exon skipping and gene therapy.

Pictured: Coltrain Playing My Favorite Things (oil) by Tommy Roberts (b.1960; Becker muscular dystrophy), Baltimore



In the 2010s, MDA increasingly partnered with industry to help move promising treatments through the “drug development pipeline.” MDA made grants to companies developing drugs for FA, SMA, DMD/Becker MD, MG and other diseases; supported trials of innovative treatment strategies; and brought together worldwide experts to foster collaboration — while continuing to fund the basic science necessary to understand these complex conditions and identify the next target for therapy development.

Pictured: The White Barn (digital drawing) by James Johnson (b. 1955, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Kokomo, Ind.

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