Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 25, 2012
The future is starting to look promising for families touched by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
Research and resources have been dedicated to unlocking the mystery of this debilitating and fatal neurodegenerative disease. Finally, good news has come. BWH researchers are the first to discover that changes in monocytes (a type of white blood cell) are a biomarker for ALS – bringing the entire medical community one step closer toward a new treatment for the disease that affects roughly 30,000 Americans.
Each year, approximately 5,600 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS, a disease that affects nerve and muscle functioning, eventually leading to paralysis. The average age at diagnosis is 55 years old, and half of those affected live at least three or more years after being diagnosed. Twenty percent live five years or more, and up to 10 percent will live more than 10 years.
This new discovery, published in the August 6 issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, could help determine the path leading to the development of specific medications that control the increase of monocytes, which have now been shown to be a factor in the development of ALS.
“People have wondered if the immune system plays a role in neurological disease like ALS,” says Dr. Howard Weiner, Director of the BWH Multiple Sclerosis Program and senior author of the study that included researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. “The immune system is complicated, and previous immunotherapy trials have not been successful. But now we know what is wrong in the blood, and this opens up new therapeutic targets for ALS.”