Biology students at MGCCC Jackson County Campus hit the streets to raise funds for genetic research

Willow Cannan
Willow Cannan


More than 100 science students at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jackson County Campus will participate in the Walk for Willow and Rare Diseases on Saturday, November 3, on Ocean Springs’ Front Beach.  The event will begin in the front of Fort Maurepas at 8 a.m.  The entry fee is $15 or a donation to  All proceeds go to the organization to fund research.

The walk is one of several local events planned to help raise the $1 million needed to create the first-ever clinical trial for MSD, which could save Willow Canaan, 5-year-old Ocean Springs resident, and others suffering from the rare condition. Most children with MSD do not live to see their 10th birthdays.

“Our science students were first introduced to Willow, the only individual in Mississippi suffering from MSD, a couple of years ago during a science unit that dealt with genetic disorders,” said Lynn Zimmerman, science instructor at the Jackson County Campus. “Willow and her mother, Amber Olsen, have been our guests at the college several times since then to speak about gene therapy and research into conditions like MSD.  Our students were very taken with Willow’s plight –she is now in the end stages of the disease– and wanted to do more than just learn.  They wanted to take action!  So instead of doing a gene fair, which we hold each year on campus, we decided to get involved in helping raise the funds needed to provide a cure for Willow and other children like her.”

Zimmerman said that Willow’s mother established the United MSD Foundation, the first foundation for the disorder in the nation.  It is a collaboration with scientists, doctors and parents connected by the disease to drive research forward and to advocate for awareness about MSD.

“The work they are doing to push forward research and to provide funds for that research is just incredible,” Zimmerman said.  “Public awareness is key in all of this, of course, as that allows the Foundation to attract more resources and to focus on innovative and collaborative research.”

Zimmerman said the science students at the Jackson County Campus are partnering with the Mayor’s Youth Council in Ocean Springs for the walk.  They are trying to encourage as many MGCCC students and employees and members of the pubic to participate in the event.

“Just imagine how empowering it would be for our community to be the key to saving Willow and other children with MSD,” she said. “And we can do that by pushing for awareness and participating in events like this walk.”


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