New Breathing Device Helps Patients Battle Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital February 7, 2013

Dr. Christopher Ducko (right) implanted a diaphragm pacing system to help extend the life of ALS patient Scott Murphy (left).

Scott Murphy, a Massachusetts father of three, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2004. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurological disease that leads to a gradual loss of muscle function. As ALS progresses, patients lose their ability to perform the most basic tasks, like walking, swallowing and even breathing. Most patients with ALS only live 3-5 years after diagnosis. Miraculously, Scott has been able to survive well beyond that; however, continued weakening of his chest muscles and diaphragm (the muscle that helps draw air into the lungs) recently posed a new threat to his health.

Until recently, the only way to help patients like Scott was the use of a mechanical ventilator, which can be confining and costly. But a Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) surgical team, led by Dr. Christopher Ducko in the Division of Thoracic Surgery, has given Scott and other ALS patients a better option in delaying their need for a ventilator. In October 2012, BWH became the first hospital in New England to implant a diaphragm pacing system in an ALS patient.

During the surgery, small electrodes, which condition the weak diaphragm muscle and improve its function, were implanted in Scott’s diaphragm. Research indicates that this will help Scott breathe more easily and postpone his need for a ventilator by up to 18 months. Additionally, unlike a ventilator, the diaphragm pacing system operates quietly and makes it possible for Scott to be mobile.

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Discovery Could Lead to New Treatment for Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 25, 2012

Clinical research at Brigham and Women's Hospital may lead to a new treatment for ALS.

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.

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