Have researchers discovered the origins of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease? This baffling and fatal disease has perplexed doctors and scientists since it was discovered. The disease is named after professional ballplayer Lou Gehrig, who died from the illness in 1941. ALS attacks the central nervous system and causes progressive symptoms that lead to death. Early symptoms may include tremors, ticks, change in gait, loss of muscle control and eventually, paralysis. The disease also paralyzes the respiration system and this leads to death following the later stages of the disease.
ALS has no known cause at this time. Without knowing the origins of ALS, it is very difficult for scientists to zero in on a cure. While certain treatments are available to ease symptoms and slow the progression of the disease slightly, there is no treatment that can halt the progress of the disease overall, and therefore, it is always fatal.
The new study just released which may indicate that scientists have discovered the origins of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease is igniting a high level of excitement in researchers because it is a major breakthrough that gives clues to the way the disease might start. The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, focuses on proteins. These proteins are involved in the nerve fibers that govern muscle movement.
Lead study researcher Su-Chun Zhang, who is also the first person to have successfully used human embryonic stem cells to grow motor neurons, says that his findings might provide scientists with an entirely new way of looking at disease origin and pathology for not only ALS, but for other diseases. The findings could also provide clues for better treatments for other neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.
Zhang has discovered that a shortage in one of the proteins which makes up a part of a transport structure called a neurofilament might be responsible for the origin of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Zhang explains:
Like the studs, joists and rafters of a house, the neurofilament is the backbone of the cell, but it’s constantly changing. These proteins need to be shipped from the cell body, where they are produced, to the most distant part, and then be shipped back for recycling. If the proteins cannot form correctly and be transported easily, they form tangles that cause a cascade of problems.
The main discovery, he says, is that just one step in one protein involved in the production of the transport system known as the neurofilament might actually be what he calls “the cause of” ALS. He says that this discovery could very quickly lead to doctors and scientists reaching into a huge “library” of existing drugs and testing them to see whether they can have a beneficial effect on the disease process. Of course, the discovery might also lead to new drug treatments being developed and tested as soon as possible.
The origins of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, might have just been discovered by scientist Su-Chun Zhang. He says that in this disease, there is “no time to waste.” His discovery could bring hope to millions of patients struggling with this fatal illness.
By: Rebecca Savastio