University of Iowa researchers say they’re making progress in treating Lou Gehrig’s disease in lab animals. The neurological disorder named for the baseball legend is relatively rare. Some 300 Iowans are afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s, also known as A-L-S, with another 60 or so cases diagnosed every year.
Dr. John Engelhardt, professor and head of anatomy and cell biology in the U-of-I College of Medicine, says their research is focused on mice, genetically-bred with A-L-S. Engelhardt says, "We discovered a drug that can increase the lifespan of mice that have A-L-S from about 125 days to close to about 250 days."
In addition to doubling the lifespan, he says the drug clearly slowed the progress of the disease in mice, though it’s uncertain if it would work in people. Engelhardt says, "You have to be cautious about interpreting studies in mice because, obviously, they’re not identical to humans so we want to be very cautious about interpreting how helpful this might be to A-L-S patients."
While the researchers in Iowa City are still a ways from being able to test their findings on people, he says this is a big step forward. Engelhardt says,"We are encouraged by the results that we have and we’re interested in really understanding the basic mechanism better so we can increase the potency of drugs and also begin to move forward to clinical testing in humans." He says A-L-S is a fatal, progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord.
Degeneration of motor neurons impairs muscle control and movement and eventually leads to paralysis and death. The findings of the U-of-I study are being published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.