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New AAN/ALS Association Clinical Fellow Will Pursue Immune Biomarkers
Date:3/13/2013

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The ALS Association and the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) are pleased to announce that James Berry , M.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Mass., is this year's recipient for the Richard Olney AAN/ALS Association Clinician Scientist Development Award, which is a part of The Association's research program TREAT ALS (Translational Research Advancing Therapy for ALS). The purpose of the award is to recruit talented and promising young clinicians, who propose innovative clinical research and to foster their development to make significant contributions to ALS clinical research. The award is named in memory of Richard K. Olney , M.D., a leading ALS neurologist and researcher. Dr. Olney, who died of ALS in 2012, was the director of the ALS Treatment and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig 's Disease) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. For unknown reasons, veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS as the general population. There is no cure, and only one drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration modestly extends survival.

For his Fellowship research, Dr. Berry will lead a longitudinal study to characterize immune system changes that may be used as a biomarker in ALS.  Biomarkers, measurable changes which can be correlated with disease and response to therapy, are a key unmet need in ALS research. Such biomarkers would potentially allow shorter and smaller clinical trials, since they may be a more sensitive and rapid read-out of therapeutic response than clinical measures such as daily function or survival.

"I am thrilled to be this year's recipient of the Richard Olney AAN/ALS Association Clinician Scientist Development Award," said Dr. Berry.  "I believe that the discovery of reliable biomarkers will have a marked impact on our understanding of ALS as well as on future clinical trials.  Our early work on monocytes has been very promising, and the prospects for the longitudinal project are extremely exciting."

Dr. Berry has worked under the guidance of Howard Weiner , M.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, as part of a team that has identified changes in pro-inflammatory monocytes as a potential biomarker for ALS progression. The Fellowship Award will allow Dr. Berry to further this research through both laboratory and clinical work.

Preliminary results have shown that monocytes, which are a type of immune cell, are activated in the periphery and recruited into the central nervous system in people with ALS. Dr. Berry will be further characterizing these changes in the monocyte populations in peripheral blood taken from patients over the course of their disease. In the second half of his Fellowship, mentored by Merit Cudkowicz, M.D., of Mass General, Dr. Berry will develop clinical protocols for collection, preservation, and storage of monocyte samples from peripheral blood, as well as strengthening his clinical research skills for ALS clinical trials.

About The ALS Association
The ALS Association is the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig 's Disease on every front.  By leading the way in global research, providing assistance for people with ALS through a nationwide network of chapters, coordinating multidisciplinary care through certified clinical care centers, and fostering government partnerships, The Association builds hope and enhances quality of life while aggressively searching for new treatments and a cure.  For more information about The ALS Association, visit our website at www.alsa.org.


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SOURCE The ALS Association
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