LOS ANGELES (April 1, 2014) The Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute has received a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Defense to conduct animal studies that, if successful, could provide the basis for a clinical trial of a gene therapy product for patients with Lou Gehrig's disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
The incurable disorder attacks muscle-controlling nerve cells motor neurons in the brain, brainstem and spinal cord. As the neurons die, the ability to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. Patients experience muscle weakness that steadily leads to paralysis; the disease usually is fatal within five years of diagnosis. Several genes have been identified in familial forms of ALS, but most cases are caused by a complex combination of unknown genetic and environmental factors, experts believe.
Because ALS affects a higher-than-expected percentage of military veterans, especially those returning from overseas duties, the Defense Department invests $7.5 million annually to search for causes and treatments. The Cedars-Sinai study, led by Clive Svendsen, PhD, professor and director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and Genevive Gowing, PhD, a senior scientist in his laboratory, also will involve a research team at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a Netherlands-based biotechnology company, uniQure, that has extensive experience in human gene therapy research and development.
The research will be conducted in laboratory rats bred to model a genetic form of ALS. If successful, it could have implications for patients with other types of the disease and could translate into a gene therapy clinical trial for this devastating disease.
It centers on a protein, GDNF, that promotes the survival of neurons. In theory, transporting GDNF into the spinal cord could protect neurons and slow disease progression, but attempts so far have failed, l
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Cedars-Sinai Medical Center