Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a terminal neurological disorder
characterized by progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal
cord and brain. These nerve cells control all of the voluntary muscles, including muscles involved with chewing, swallowing and breathing. Often referred to as "Lou
Gehrig's disease" (a
famous baseball player who died from the disease), or Motor Neuron Disease (in Europe). It is one of the most
devastating nerve-muscle disorders known.
The nerves affected in ALS are the same ones which are infected by polio virus. In the case of polio, victims who survive the initial infection typically live out their normal lifespan, even though they have permanent weakness or even paralysis of one or more muscles, or groups of muscles. Unlike polio, the loss of motor nerves in ALS is unrelenting, and the disease process continues until victims become totally paralyzed. An understanding of why the loss of motor nerves continues unabated in ALS would be an important first step toward a treatment and a cure.
ALS does not affect mental functioning or the senses (such as touch, vision, or
hearing), and is not contagious. Approximately 20% of ALS cases are inherited (runs in families), whereas in most cases (80%), the cause is totally unknown. Currently, there is no effective treatment for
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but at the J. Thomas May Center for ALS Research, we are employing a novel approach to finding one - as quickly as possible - hence the description, "focusing on Translational Medicine".
UAMS Dedicates Thomas May Center for ALS Research
John P. Crow, Ph.D.