You may have first learned about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) after the “ice bucket challenge” rapidly circulated throughout social media in 2014.
ALS is a “progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
This rare disease affects about five thousand U.S. adults each year and, as it progresses, can drastically impact patients’ quality of life.
While there is still no known cure for ALS, though, researchers at FAU in Germany and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have made gains in potentially allowing medical professionals to identify the disease’s onset at an earlier stage.
The study, which has since been published in Acta Neuropathologica, was based on a protein known as TDP-43.
Beate Winner, the head of the Stem Cell Biology Department at FAU, explained the significance of TDP-43 in end-stage ALS.
“We have known for roughly fifteen years that during the end stage of the disease, the protein TDP-43 found in neurons becomes insoluble and starts to form clumps,” she began.
In other words, the protein ceases normal function and becomes toxic. However, this “switch” is not noticeable to patients or medical professionals when it occurs. And because of this, no preventative actions can be taken.
“So, we wanted to know whether we could find causes for ALS at an early stage of development before the TDP-43 changes,” Winner continued.