Docs Make ALS Breakthrough
Medical maestros trying to unravel the mystery of Lou Gehrig's disease have made a breakthrough that may someday put the brakes on the rapidly paralyzing illness -- a huge leap forward that the state's top docs say could add years to patients' lives.
"It's a big deal because most people with ALS only live three to four years after their diagnosis," said Dr. Robert Brown, a University of Massachusetts Medical School neurologist who has spent decades studying the disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. "For a 50-year-old woman with ALS and two school-aged children, it's significant. This latest data shows that there's a way to slow the course of the disease, so she could live to see her children graduate from high school or even college."
ALS, which has long puzzled researchers, is a degenerative disease that kills muscle-controlling nerves, leaving patients trapped in their bodies, with fully active minds but frozen limbs.
New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, for whom the disease is now named, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on June 2, 1941, two years after he was diagnosed.
The development, published this week in the journal Nature Medicine by a Belgian doctor, Brown and several other researchers, centers on a gene called EphA4. Their work found that the disease advances more slowly when that gene isn't working properly. The conclusion, Brown said, is that "suppressing EphA4 may be a new way to treat ALS."