Sometimes, a little hope is all you need.
And hope is what the 15 Oklahoma patients, caregivers and Muscular Dystrophy Association physicians and staff who visited OMRF Friday got when they spoke with scientists about new research and discoveries that hold hope for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of muscular dystrophy.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is caused by the decline and death of cells in the nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. As the nerve cells degenerate, the disease causes muscles to weaken and atrophy, ultimately leaving those who suffer from ALS unable to control all voluntary movement. There is no cure or treatment that halts the progression of the disease, and ALS patients have a life expectancy of three to five years after diagnosis.
Although the cause of ALS is not completely understood, recent years have brought a wealth of new scientific understanding regarding the physiology of this disease. Kenneth Hensley, Ph.D., a scientist in OMRF’s Free Radical Biology and Aging Research Program, led a discussion on recent developments in ALS research with the group. The discussion focused on neuroinflammation, where the body’s immune system overreacts and damages nerve cells rather than protecting them.
“What we’re looking for is a way to calm that reaction, so that the immune system still works, but without the harmful effects present in ALS patients,” he said. “With 30,000 ALS patients in America and almost 200 in Oklahoma, the need for new treatments is clear.”
OMRF scientists James Rand, Ph.D., and Paul Kincade, Ph.D., also met with the group to discuss discoveries and research methods related to the disease.
“This is a new era of scientific discovery in the field of ALS research and OMRF is at the forefront of that movement,” MDA regional director Nikki Smith said. “It is incredibly heartening to talk to scientists who both understand the plight of ALS patients and are working to find new ways to treat the disease.”
The Muscular Dystrophy Association has been fighting against ALS since 1950 and funds 220 outpatient clinics, 36 of which are MDA/ALS centers, and sponsors about 70 ALS support groups. The Oklahoma City ALS Center is under the direction of Dr. Brent Beson at the MDA Neuromuscular Center at Integris Southwest Medical Center. Those interested in contacting the MDA can call (918) 749-7997.