Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cure for ALS (Amyothropic Lateral Sclerosis)

What is ALS?
Amyothropic Lateral Sclerosis is a classic motor neuron disease. Motor neuron diseases are progressive chronic diseases of the nerves that come from the spinal cord responsible for supplying electrical stimulation to the muscles. This stimulation is necessary for the movement of body parts.

In North America ALS is often called "Lou Gehrig's disease" after the stalwart baseball player who died from it. In 14 seasons playing for the New York Yankees, Gehrig did not miss a single game for a total of 2,130 straight games. He became known as the "iron man." Born in 1903, he died in 1941 at the age of 38. The movie, "Pride of the Yankees", tells Gehrig's tragic and triumphant life story.

ALS can strike anyone at any age and once it starts it paralyses the entire body and death usually happens in 2 to 5 years. The apcient become entombed in his/her own body. It has been over 100 years since it was first diagnosed.

ALS strikes in mid-life, most often in the fifth through seventh decades of life. Men are about one-and-a-half times more likely to have the disease as women. It affects about 20,000 Americans with 5,000 new cases occurring in the United States each year.

The disease process
ALS occurs when specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement gradually degenerate. The loss of these motor neurons causes the muscles under their control to weaken and waste away, leading to paralysis. The cause of this disease process is still unknown.

Signs and symptoms
ALS manifests itself in different ways, depending on which muscles weaken first. Symptoms may include tripping and falling, loss of motor control in hands and arms, difficulty speaking, swallowing and/or breathing, persistent fatigue, and twitching and cramping, sometimes quite severely.
What researches are being conducted to discover a treatment?

The MDA reported a clinical trial in Italy with 44 people with ALS were given Lithium (already FDA approved drug) and after 15 months not one died and their progression of the disease either slowed or stopped. Larger clinical trials are on the fast track now.

Lithium has its own risks
Lithium is a safe drug in low concentrations, though often severe mental disorder patients are put on a great deal of it because it is also one of the few that work for resistant types of those disorders. At levels like that it does cause obesity, fatigue, and sometimes phantom pain in addition to the liver toxicity effects (that are closely monitored).
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