ALS markers could point to treatment

International research highlights biomarkers that could predict severity and survival in ALS, (better known as Lou Gehrig's disease), as well as possible routes for treatment for the degenerative and untreatable condition that is the most common form of motor neuron disease.

People with ALS generally live for three to 5 years after diagnosis, though life expectancy could range between months and decades. About 10% of cases are inherited.

By looking at zebra fish, researchers at the University of Leuven (VIB/KU Leuven) in Belgium found that changes in the levels of the EphA4 receptor, a protein, can have an effect on outcome. People with lower levels of the receptor develop ALS later and live longer than people with higher levels. In another study by the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), scientists spotted a gene called profilin-1 that works with EphA4 to control the growth of nerves.

Sanofi's ($SNY) riluzole (Rilutek) is the only drug that prolongs survival in ALS, and its effects are modest. Other treatments are simply symptomatic. As well as being a marker for the disease, EphA4 could be a possible target for drug development.

"It is exciting that these two studies identify the same pathway in ALS," said John Landers of UMMS, in a statement. "Hopefully this discovery will accelerate efforts to finding a treatment for ALS."

- read the press release from UMMS
- see the press release from KU/Leuven
- see the abstract on EPHA4
- check out the abstract on profilin-1

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