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BREAKTHROUGH ALS discovery announced.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 23rd, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Researchers at Northwestern University report they have found the underlying cause of all the varied forms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS). The culprit appears to be a break-down in neurons overseeing the recycling of proteins in cells.

CHICAGO, IL (Catholic Online) - The discovery by researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine was reported in the scientific journal, Nature.  

In ALS, researchers report, cells in the brain and spinal cord cannot recycle critical proteins that allow them to repair or maintain their integrity. Over time, the cells break down and stop functioning which leads to paralysis in the victim, and in many cases, death. The finding also links all the various forms of ALS into one disease with cause. Previously, the various manifestations of the illness caused some controversy regarding the relationship between the cases. Indeed, they do have a common cause. 

The discovery is hopeful because work towards a treatment can now begin. According to the study's senior author, Doctor Teepu Siddique, "This opens up a whole new field for finding an effective treatment for ALS. We can now test for drugs that would regulate this protein pathway or optimize it, so it functions as it should in a normal state."

Researchers don't think the discovery stops there. The find could also lead to improved treatments for Alzheimer's, dementia, and Parkinson's disease. Siddique has researched the disease for over a quarter century and his team's work proves the three diseases have similar causes each, the result of breakdowns in protein recycling.  

ALS affects over 350,000 people worldwide, with victims of every age. More than half of the victims die within three years of diagnosis. Many of the victims are young, in the prime of their life, as painfully demonstrated by the originally studied case in baseball legend, Lou Gehrig. While a cure may be years, even decades away, now that the cause is known, it is only a short time before effective treatments will be developed to prolong and improve the quality of life for victims. 

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