Pioneering research on ALS muscle disease rewarded

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 r

Contact: Sooike Stoops
VIB, Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology

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