Researchers uncover ALS clue that could slow disease down

Researchers at the University of Manitoba say they've made a breakthrough discovery that could help people with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, live longer.

University of Manitoba team has identified how disease works through mutated gene

Researchers at the University of Manitoba say they've made a breakthrough discovery that could help some people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, live longer. 2:11

Researchers at the University of Manitoba say they've made a breakthrough discovery that could help some people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, live longer.

In a research article published Thursday in the journal PLOS Genetics, the research team from the university's Regenerative Medicine Program has identified the way the ALS gene mutates in the cells of some patients.

"Rather than turning off the production of a protein the cell knows is bad, it just keeps on plowing and plowing and plowing more, creating a worse situation," said Geoff Hicks, director of the regenerative medicine program at the Winnipeg-based university.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba have uncovered information about this ALS protein. They now hope to find ways to slow down the disease's progress. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)
"We also were able to correct this regulation, that is to say, trick the cell into thinking it's getting the signal to stop making this mutant protein."

Hicks said the discovery could change the lives of people — including more than 250 Manitobans — who live with ALS.

"I want to emphasize what we found is not a cure, at least not today or any time soon. But What we found is a likelier way to slow this disease down," he said.

"Anything that can slow the disease down can translate to years or decades of extended and better life for those already affected."

Hicks said the next step is to test the team's discovery on mice within two to three years.

ALS is an incurable degenerative disease in which patients slowly lose control of their arms and legs, and eventually their throat and diaphragm. Eighty per cent of those who are diagnosed with ALS die within five years.

News of the research breakthrough has provided a glimmer of hope for Victor Perrin, a former school principal in Winnipeg who was diagnosed with ALS in January 2008.

"I may or may not benefit, but if I don't, others with years to come will benefit from this discovery," he said.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.