Pioneering research on ALS muscle disease rewarded

06/16/05

Patient organization raises funds in support of the research; scientists receive prestigious Galenus Prize

Leuven - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is an incurable paralyzing neurodegenerative disorder that strikes five out of every 100,000 persons. The disease usually affects healthy people in the most active period of their lives - without warning or previous family history. Researchers from VIB (the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology), under the direction of Prof. Peter Carmeliet (K.U.Leuven), have been the first to demonstrate the importance of the VEGF protein in this disease. This research is opening prospects for treating ALS, and these promising results are highly appreciated by the persons concerned. The patient organization, ALS Association, has just presented 3000 of collected funds to Peter Carmeliet's team; and Diether Lambrechts and Erik Storkebaum, also members of Prof. Carmeliet's research team, have received the Galenus Prize to the value of 6200.

Incurable muscle disease

ALS can strike anyone. The Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung, the Russian composer Dimitri Sjostakowitz, the legendary New York Yankee baseball player Lou Gehrig, and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking have all been afflicted with ALS. In addition, an unusually large number of top Italian soccer players, airline pilots, and soldiers from the Golf war have been stricken by this fatal disease. About half of them die within three years - some even in the first year - usually as a consequence of asphyxiation, while still 'in full possession of their faculties'.

In a patient with ALS, the nerve bundles that run to the muscles deteriorate. The patient then loses control over his muscles, progressively becoming totally paralyzed, while remaining - disconcertingly - mentally sound. The causative mechanism of this grave, debilitating disease - which has an enormous medico-social impact - remains obscure. At present, the disease is totally untreatable. The consequence is that many ALS patients elect for euthanasia, a very controversial solution. Genetic research by Peter Carmeliet and his team at the Catholic University of Leuven has led to the surprising finding that the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays an important role in this disease process. Subsequent research into using VEGF as a possible treatment shows promise.

A gift from the ALS Association

The ALS Association was founded to serve ALS patients. A short while ago, the Association started collection campaigns for research into ALS. Now, the Association is presenting all of the collected funds to the VIB researchers as a gift of appreciation. The chairman of the ALS Association expressed it to Peter Carmeliet this way: "The Association and its members are extremely appreciative of your dedication, and we hope that this gift can help accelerate the VEGF procedure and thus encourage patients to carry on with hope.' For the moment, the contribution amounts to 3000 - but the Association is planning additional actions, beyond the collection campaigns, to continue to support this research.

Galenus Prize goes to VIB researchers

On 8 May, Diether Lambrechts and Erik Storkebaum from Peter Carmeliet's research group received the Galenus Prize for pharmacology and fundamental research. This 6200 Prize rewards basic research that opens the way to new medical treatments. The research of these two VIB scientists into the therapeutic applications of VEGF for ALS is a shining example of this kind of research. The Galenus Prize is thus an important acknowledgement of the import of their innovative research.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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