Volume 96, Issue 98
Thursday, April 3, 2003

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Lou Gehrig's Disease breakthrough

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

A breakthrough experimental approach to treating ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, slows the disease's progression and may extend patients' lives by up to 10 years, Canadian scientists recently discovered.

Afflicting over 2,000 Canadians, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease which kills the body's motor nerves, leading to complete paralysis and suffocation, said Susan Graham Walker, spokesperson for the ALS Society of Canada. With present treatments, patients can live anywhere from two to five years, making the announced treatment very promising to sufferers worldwide, she added.

"The number of people diagnosed is the same number of people that die," Walker said. "Two to three Canadians die a day from the disease."

Revealed in the current edition of the medical journal, Annals of Neurology, the new approach involves the administration of a market drug-based cocktail which targets the effects of ALS, said Jean-Pierre Julien, a neurology professor at McGill University and lead author of the study.

"The view, currently, is that there are multiple causes [of ALS]," Julien said, explaining how this ambiguity forced his team of ALS researchers to focus on the effects of the disease, not the causes. "The trick in the future will be to identify new targets," he said, adding human trials will begin in late summer.

Julien, along with study co-author Jasna Kriz, said the synergy of the three drugs in the cocktail – minocycline, an anti-inflammatory antibiotic; riluzole, a glutamate reduction drug; and the neuro-protector nimodipine – have a greater effect together than individually.

Academics from the Western community, including clinical neurology professor Michael Strong, will be making heavy contributions to McGill's ALS research, Julien explained. "The University of Western Ontario will be involved in this within the next two to three months," Julien stated. "London, Ontario, will [also] be involved in the testing of this cocktail."

Rémi Quirion, scientific director for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, praised Julien and his progress towards an effective treatment for ALS. "Jean-Pierre Julien is recognized as a world leader in ALS research," Quirion remarked.

Quirion explained how a multi-drug approach is the best method currently known. "For many of the neurodegenerative diseases, we will not have a magic bullet that will hit the disease with just one drug," he said.

"We're still kind of a long way [from] home, but it's a step in the right direction," Quirion said, adding he believed a complete treatment may be available in a short number of years.

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