Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a nightmare of an illness. This motor neuron disease progresses quickly, damaging neurons (nerve cells) and destroying muscle control, ultimately ending in death.
More than 12,000 Americans have been diagnosed with ALS, the National ALS Registry reports.
Early symptoms are often mild and may not be noticed at first. As they continue to become more severe, however, the individual will notice increasing problems with their hands, legs, balance, coordination, and speech difficulties, just to name a few areas that are affected.
ALS usually runs its brutal course in three to five years though in 10 percent of cases, survival may last for 10 years or more. Respiratory failure is usually the final blow, as muscles in the chest wall and diaphragm no longer function.
There are a few optimistic notes recently as researchers have been learning more about the disease.
A study performed on mice at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) has found that the gene matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) may have a significant role in motor neuron degeneration in ALS, according to an article on Sciencedaily.com.
This study was published online on January 23, 2014 in the journal Neuron. The paper is titled, "Neuronal matrix metalloproteinase-9 is a determinant of selective neurodegeneration."
Not all neurons are susceptible to ALS. Other research has indicated that MMP-9 protein (a product of product of MMP-9) shows up in all ALS-vulnerable motor neurons but not in the neurons which are resistant to ALS.
Christopher E. Henderson, PhD, the Gurewitsch and Vidda Foundation Professor of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine, professor of pathology & cell biology and neuroscience (in neurology), and co-director of Columbia's Motor Neuron Center was the study leader. The article quoted Henderson as saying, "... having MMP-9 is an absolute predictor that a motor neuron will die if the disease strikes, at least in mice."