For researchers, learning how to treat a disease is often linked to understanding how it progresses. New research from OMRF into the path of Lou Gehrig’s Disease could spark new therapies.
Using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, OMRF scientist Rheal Towner, Ph.D., has developed an innovative method to track disease movement throughout the body.
In a paper published in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine, Towner and collaborator Kenneth Hensley, Ph.D., at the University of Toledo Medical Center in Ohio, show a spike in free radicals near the lumbar region of the spinal cord.
“Increased free radicals are often a sign that an abnormal event is occurring,” Towner said. “It’s one of the mechanisms associated in many diseases.”
Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. As the nerve cells degenerate and die, it adversely affects the ability of the brain to control muscle movement, sometimes leading to total paralysis.
About 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease each year and an estimated 30,000 Americans may have ALS at any given time. Patients live, on average, between two to five years from the time of diagnosis.
Towner and Hensley, in collaboration with Ronald Mason, Ph.D., at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, paired an antibody that seeks out free radicals with a “molecular probe” that can be seen by the MRI, allowing them to literally see which areas of the body were producing free radicals in a mouse model for ALS.
He said the new information provided by this research shows how free radicals are directly involved in the ALS disease process and could lead to new therapies combining anti-inflammatory drugs with antioxidant treatments, which would aim to negate free radicals.
Future MRI studies will track the creation of free radicals in patients with gliomas and in sepsis.
OMRF scientists Florea Lupu, Ph.D., and Melinda West contributed to the paper. Funding for the research was provided in part by the NIEHS, part of the National Institutes of Health.