What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, is a
rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve
cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. In ALS, both
the upper motor neurons and the lower motor neurons degenerate or die, ceasing to
send messages to muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, waste
away, and twitch. Eventually the ability of the brain to start and control voluntary
movement is lost. Individuals with ALS lose their strength and the ability
to move their arms, legs, and body. When muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall
fail, individuals lose the ability to breathe without ventilatory support. In
most cases the disease does not impair a person's mind, personality, intelligence,
or memory, nor does it affect a person's ability to see, smell, taste, hear, or recognize
touch. A small percentage of patients may experience problems with memory or
decision-making, and there is growing evidence that some may even develop a form
of dementia. The cause of ALS is not known, and scientists do not yet know
why ALS strikes some people and not others.
Is there any treatment?
No cure has yet been found for ALS. However, the FDA has approved the first drug
treatment for the disease—riluzole. Riluzole is believed to reduce damage
to motor neurons and prolongs survival by several months, mainly in those with difficulty
swallowing. Other treatments are designed to relieve symptoms and improve the
quality of life for people with ALS. Drugs also are available to help individuals
with pain, depression, sleep disturbances, and constipation. Individuals with
ALS may eventually consider forms of mechanical ventilation (respirators).
What is the prognosis?
Regardless of the part of the body first affected by the disease, muscle weakness
and atrophy spread to other parts of the body as the disease progresses. Individuals
have increasing problems with moving, swallowing, and speaking or forming words. Eventually
people with ALS will not be able to stand or walk, get in or out of bed on their
own, or use their hands and arms. In later stages of the disease, individuals
have difficulty breathing as the muscles of the respiratory system weaken. Although
ventilation support can ease problems with breathing and prolong survival, it does
not affect the progression of ALS. Most people with ALS die from respiratory
failure, usually within 3 to 5 years from the onset of symptoms. However, about 10
percent of those individuals with ALS survive for 10 or more years.
What Research is Being Done?
Since it’s founding, in 1998, Project A.L.S., Inc. has raised over $23 million.
Over 83% of the money they raise goes directly to funding for historic research
programs. Current cutting-edge projects include:
• Gene Chip Discovery
• Accelerated Drug Testing
• Neural Stem Cell Replacement
Project A.L.S., Inc. has assembled a dream team of leading doctors and researchers from
around the world who are committed to the goal of bringing swift and responsible
science to the fight against ALS.
In only a few short years, this unprecedented collaboration has produced historic
breakthroughs into our understanding of ALS. If successful, their current research
will make a difference to those living with ALS as well as related neurological disorders
such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis and spinal cord
Partners with Project A.L.S., Inc. include scientists at Yale University, Cornell University,
The Salk Institute, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University, the Howard
Hughes Medical Institute at Columbia University and the University of California,
San Francisco among others.