Research at the ALS Center of Excellence

The Problem

ALS patient brain tissue (top) and cell differentiation of that tissue (bottom)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease—after the Yankee baseball icon whose career and life were cut short by the disease.  ALS affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord and causes degeneration of motor neurons (nerves controlling the muscles). This leads to muscle wasting and loss of voluntary control—the ability to walk, talk, eat and, eventually, breathe.

ALS occurs in approximately 1-4 of every 100,000 individuals. It is estimated that over 30,000 Americans are living with ALS, and 6,400 people are diagnosed each year.  By 2040, it is believed that the incidence of ALS will increase by 70% worldwide

  • There is no cure, so the disease is fatal.
  • Average survival is 2 to 4 years after diagnosis.
  • Veterans have twice the incidence of ALS, compared to others.
  • There are two types of ALS: around 90% of ALS cases are not inherited, termed “sporadic,” while 10% are inherited, called “familial.”
  • Gene mutations linked to ALS have been identified in about 70% of patients who inherited the disease
  • The cause and disease mechanism of ALS remain unknown.

“The Midwest has the highest prevalence of ALS of any part of the United States, which has really been a driving force for our research. There is certainly some genetic risk, but there also is clearly something in our environment in the Midwest that’s involved.”

Dr. Eva Feldman | Detroit Free Press