FDA Issues Draft Guidance for ALS Drug Development

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Agency credits ALS Association proposed guidance, which was funded by Ice Bucket Challenge funds

Washington, D.C. (February 15, 2018) – The ALS Association applauded the Food and Drug Association’s (FDA) announcement Thursday of its proposed industry guidance for the development of drugs to treat ALS. The FDA’s draft guidance is informed by The ALS Association’s first patient-focused guidance for ALS drug development that was submitted to the FDA in late 2017 and that was funded with donations from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

“Despite the availability of some approved therapies, there is an urgent need to identify additional effective treatments for patients with ALS. We’ve been honored to work with the ALS Association to advance these goals. The ALS Association put together a comprehensive proposed draft guidance of their own, funded by the famous ‘ice bucket challenge,’” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a memo released Thursday.

The FDA guidance and the ALS patient-focused guidance complement each other and will work in tandem to provide a roadmap to help researchers in academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies navigate the drug development process. The goal of both these documents is to increase the efficiency, predictability and speed of the drug development process, including clinical trials, and lead to a more effective and earlier assessment of efficacy.

“We want to commend the FDA for moving forward with the first-ever guidance on drug development for people with ALS,” said Calaneet Balas, president and CEO of The ALS Association. “The FDA guidance and the patient-focused guidance both have the potential to speed up the process of drug development, reduce costs, and create incentives for the industry to enter the ALS market and develop new treatments.”

The ALS Association will be submitting comments on the FDA’s draft guidance and encourages others to do so, as well. The proposed guidance will be available for public comment for 60 days after it is placed in the public register. The final FDA guidance could change from the proposal to reflect feedback from the public. The proposed FDA guidance has not been officially published, but it can be viewed here.

The ALS Association worked with more than 100 participants, including industry, clinicians and researchers, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and people with ALS and their families to develop the proposed patient-focused guidance.

“We are grateful to the many stakeholders who helped draft the patient-focused guidance document, especially people living with ALS,” Balas said. “We also appreciate the commitment of FDA leadership, including Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the Food and Drugs Administration; Janet Woodcock, Director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and Dr. Billy Dunn, Director, Office of Drug Evaluation Division for Neurology Products. We will continue to push and support the FDA to expand its array of projects to accelerate therapies to people with ALS to meet the urgent need for ALS treatments and a cure.

“This is an important step, but it’s critical that our advocates and allies remain engaged during the next few weeks and weigh in during the public comment period to make sure that the community keeps driving this process forward,” Balas added.

Children & Teens Day: Spreading Love to PALS on Valentine’s Day

Since 2012, The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter has been sponsoring a special “Children and Teens Day” event for children who are living with or love a PALS, and for children who are already bereaved. Our first Kids Day, as we lovingly call it, was at a restaurant in the city that was truly out of this world – Mars 2112! There, kids ages 8 to 18 had fun in the restaurant’s arcade, ate a spectacular meal – and decorated “memory boxes” using their own memorabilia or craft materials provided by the Chapter. This was the first of many art-therapy oriented Kids Days.

Now divided into two age groups (6 to 11 and 12 to 18), groups have brought family photos to the Chapter office to make beautiful scrapbooks or snow globes, painted a tea set at a pottery studio, and drawn a mandala (signifying the circle of life). Most recently, the group made Valentine’s Cards and decorated frames for their loved ones, as pictured above. Art is therapeutic, and always something kids enjoy.

We have found that working with art can help children get more in touch with their thoughts and feelings about their lives with ALS, even if they don’t want to talk openly with other kids or staff members who are always present. However, sometimes they do, and we offer them a safe space to talk with each other. At our most recent event, a nine-year-old girl told us she comes to our groups to have some fun and asked if we invited kids because their parents are sick. At another, a boy slightly older quietly told a staff member that his dad had ALS. In these quiet ways, children can express themselves, feeling understood by other kids going through a similar experience. Their privacy is respected: parents can join for our traditional pizza lunch and ice cream sundae bar, and stay to chat with one another privately, while the kids do their artwork.

Stay tuned for our upcoming events including a day for bereaved children and teens ages 12-18 and a barbeque style lunch and day of games this summer.

For more information on Children and Teens Day, contact Sue Zimmerman at 212-720-3050 or zimmerman@als-ny.org.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Year-End Update: Over $94 Million in Commitments Since 2014

In the summer of 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge inspired 17 million people to upload videos and raised $115 million for The ALS Association. Since then, The ALS Association has committed more than $94 million toward its mission, including over $82 million to fund research and helped forge nine new global research collaborations.

“The Ice Bucket Challenge was a global phenomenon, thanks to the generosity of millions of people, resulting in a tremendous amount of awareness of the disease and spurring a huge increase in our research spending,” said Calaneet Balas, president and CEO of The ALS Association. “Since 2014, we’ve committed over $82 million to fund diverse, cutting-edge research, including over 150 projects in the last year alone. By its nature and design, research requires time, and people with ALS don’t have a lot of time. But we’ve seen exciting breakthroughs from the research we fund – including some that were considered high-risk.”

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations have helped lead to the discovery of four new ALS genes, including NEK1, one of the most common. In addition, scientists who are a part of the Neuro Collaborative, which was started with an initial investment of $5 million from ALS Ice Bucket donations, have developed antisense drugs targeting two of the most common ALS genes, C9orf72 and SOD1. Our investment in this innovative technology also translates to other neurodegenerative diseases, making the impact of Ice Bucket donations even greater.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations have also helped spur advancements in assistive technology to develop flexible, accessible devices to help people living with ALS better communicate to improve their quality of life. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations have also helped us increase the number of Certified and Recognized Treatment Centers of Excellence and the size of the grants to those centers. Prior to the Ice Bucket Challenge, we 34 Certified Treatment Centers of Excellence and there were no plans to increase that number. Today, we have 58 Certified centers, in addition to 20 Recognized Treatment Centers. (The primary difference between Certified and Recognized Treatment Centers is that Certified Centers conduct ALS research.)

To see our research accomplishments and highlights for the past year (2017), please click here. To see a specific list of all the projects and project descriptions we have funded since the Ice Bucket Challenge, please click here.

“We fight for treatments and a cure for ALS every single day,” Balas said. “We are the largest private funder of ALS research and are currently funding research projects in eight countries. We are also helping ensure people with ALS receive multidisciplinary care that we know enhances and extends life. And we’re amplifying the voices of more than 16,000 ALS advocates to push for better public policies that can help us fight for treatments and a cure.”

The ALS Association is committed to transparency in how donor dollars are fueling efforts to find treatments and a cure for the disease. And we’re committed to maximizing all donations from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and beyond.

ALS Association Greater New York Chapter Names Kristen Cocoman New President and CEO

Cocoman has been affiliated with The Greater New York Chapter for over 15 years

NEW YORK, November 1, 2017 – Today, The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter announced that Kristen Cocoman will be the next President and CEO, effective November 1st. Cocoman has been with the Chapter since 1999, where she has worked with founding chapter President CEO, Dorine Gordon, and currently serves as Chief Development Officer.

“I am excited to take on this new role at the Chapter. I remain committed to the organization’s mission of providing compassionate care and support to patients and their families while relentlessly pursuing treatments and ultimately a cure for ALS,” Cocoman said.

The Chapter currently serves more than 800 people living with ALS, and is the largest Chapter in The ALS Association’s nationwide network, raising more than $6 million annually to advance patient services and research.

“We are thrilled to welcome Kristen into her new role. She has been a passionate advocate at the chapter for many years.  We are looking forward to continuing in the fight against ALS under her leadership,” ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, Chairman of the Board, Allen Popowitz said.

The Chapter sponsors global research initiatives, supports care services at five multidisciplinary ALS treatment centers, hosts seven Walks to Defeat ALS across New York and New Jersey and The Lou Gehrig Sports Awards Benefit which has become one of the premiere ALS fundraising events in the country.

About ALS Association Greater New York Chapter

The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter serves patients and families throughout the New York City, Long Island, Northern & Central New Jersey, and Westchester & the Hudson Valley. The Chapter plays a major role in promoting the mission to lead the fight to treat and cure ALS through global research and nationwide advocacy while also empowering people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and their families to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support. The ALS Association is the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front.

For more information about The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, visit our website at http://www.als-ny.org, Facebook and Twitter.

ALS Research Update from New York Genome Center Scientific Director and CEO – Dr. Tom Maniatis

From donations raised through the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, The ALS Association, in partnership with the Greater New York Chapter, made a $2.5 million commitment to the Center for Genomics of Neurodegenerative Disease (CGND) at the New York Genome Center (NYGC). This commitment, combined with a matching gift from the Tow Foundation, was one of the driving forces supporting the NYGC’s ALS research program in 2014. Three years later, the NYGC’s CGND has made enormous headway in the ALS genetics space and has become one of the major leaders in the field. Their accomplishments are broad in that they have sequenced and analyzed hundreds of ALS DNA samples, while pairing this information with patient clinical history and more. We are pleased to note that Tom Maniatis, PhD, one of the NYGC’s original founders and renowned ALS researcher, was recently appointed Scientific Director and Chief Executive Officer of the NYGC.

For part II of our NYGC progress update, today we sat down with Dr. Maniatis to learn how ALS Association donations impacted the NYGC over the years and his vision for the Center’s future.

Thank you Dr. Maniatis, for taking the time to sit down with us today and congratulations on your new position as Scientific Director and CEO of the NYGC. I know you have a long history with The ALS Association. Can you tell us about that and how you got involved in ALS research?

Over 20 years ago, my sister was diagnosed with ALS. Soon after her diagnosis, I was approached by Robert Abendroth, one of the original founders of The ALS Association, about the possibility of chairing a committee whose objective was to attract scientists doing basic research, like myself, into ALS research. At the time, ALS research was dominated by clinicians, which is important, but there was an element of basic cutting-edge research that was missing from The ALS Association research program. I came onboard and chaired the committee with Robert. Together, we brought in basic research scientists, and ideas emerged, programs were generated, and funds were provided. Things really started moving. However, it became clear that in order for this program to become successful, it required a full-time scientific research administrator. That was when Dr. Lucie Bruijn was recruited to help run The ALS Association research program. I worked closely with her over many years to develop and expand The ALS Association’s research committee and programs. The earliest advance was to focus on ALS genetics, which clearly influenced my decisions about helping to establish the NYGC later.

How did ALS research get established at the NYGC?

When I first came to New York in 2010, I had already worked on trying to understand the interactions between astrocytes (i.e. neuron support cells) and neurons, which was funded by The ALS Association. We were working on mouse stem cell differentiation into motor neurons and then later human stem cells. We also studied how gene mutations affected transcription and gene expression. This is an area where I worked much of my life. At that time, the genomic methods were just being developed. It became clear the infrastructure needed for this type of work did not yet exist in New York, so there was relatively little activity in genomics. I reached out to the scientific leadership in New York and was pleased that everyone had the same concern and a common desire to establish a robust genome center in New York City. Our institutional founding members, comprised of the top academic leaders, came together in 2011. The institutional founding members of the genome center provided startup financial support and an agreement to serve on the NYGC Board of Directors. That is how we got started. It was a consequence, in a very direct way, of my interest in ALS.

How has ALS Association funding support impacted the NYGC?

The ALS Association contribution of $2.5 million and the matching grant from Leonard Tow and the Tow Foundation made it possible for the NYGC to create the infrastructure to establish a unique global ALS Consortium. This landmark initiative is defined by data sharing, having common Internal Review Board procedures, including patient consent forms, and an agreement to collaborate in generating and analyzing ALS genomic data. Lucie recently commented on how unusual it was to see something this vibrant and internationally connected come together so quickly. That was really our goal.

Do you have a message for our donors that made this support to the NYGC possible?

I believe that the approach we are taking is fundamentally important for ALS research, as it provides the infrastructure for ultimately developing effective treatments for ALS. We got this important initiative off the ground, but it, of course, requires continued funding. The more patients we can sequence, the more information we are going to have. The cost for each patient for whole genome sequencing is significant. Supporting the framework and infrastructure that allows us to continue this is very important. We must continue to raise funds to keep this initiative going. There is always a threat of not being able to fund it, and as a result, lose the momentum in this program. So, that is the message – to emphasize the importance of the continuity of financial support for the NYGC’s work in ALS research. The ALS Association’s investment in this research will help fulfill our joint mission to better understand the mechanisms of this devastating disease and discover new therapies and therapeutics to improve the lives of ALS patients.

Sequencers_1
Sequencers at the New York Genome Center

What do you see as the future of the NYGC?

There are three main areas that we are currently focusing on: ALS, cancer genetics, and autism. There is actually some symmetry in these three research programs. The one you know about is in ALS, which is a consortium-based effort to collect genomic data of ALS patients, along with their clinical data. The goal is to harmonize this information in a way that one can explore the nature of the effects of ALS mutations. Dr. Hemali Phatnani leads this program. Her NYGC laboratory and the Center for Genomics of Neurodegenerative Disease, reflect our primary objective – to have consortium based aggregation of clinical and genomic data. We use this data to better understand ALS disease pathways utilizing cutting-edge genomic technology and disease models. That is our major effort at the NYGC.

There is also a symmetric effort going on at the NYGC in cancer genetics. Here we are working with Drs. Harold Varmus, Charles Sawyers, and all of the institutional members of the NYGC, with the goal of establishing a large-scale, shared database of genomic and clinical cancer data. The NYGC excels at generating data and one of our real strengths has been in genome sequencing. I think we are recognized as one of the major players in the whole genome sequencing. Because of our unique expertise, we were awarded a prestigious Center for Common Disease Genomics grant from the National Institutes of Health. Obtaining this award was significant, considering we were only in operation for two years at the time.

This grant supports our research program in autism. Because of the cooperation with the Simons Foundation and two of the top geneticists in autism – Drs. Evan Eichler and Michael Wigler – this is a major program at the NYGC. We are also in discussion with various neurologists in the city about establishing a similar program in other neurodegenerative diseases. Our overall objective is to be an intellectual and data center for these major disease areas and enable the New York scientific community to use genomic approaches to study disease pathways, which we obviously feel is required to develop drugs to treat these diseases.

Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us today to share the NYGC story and your vision for its future. We look forward to hearing the many more great successes targeting ALS coming out of the NYGC!

Read part I of our interview on October 6, 2017 featuring NYGC CGND Director, Dr. Hemali Phatnani.

For more information about the New York Genome Center, click here and here.

Article originally written by the ALSA National Office

ALS Advocacy Victory: Access to Complex Rehabilitation Technology Preserved

As ALS progresses, people living with the disease heavily depend on complex rehabilitative technology (CRT), especially their personally customized power wheel chairs. The ALS Association played a critical role both through direct lobbying and grassroots advocacy to win support for legislation to convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to abandon plans to apply competitive bidding to CRT. This makes it possible for people living with ALS to continue to obtain the CRT equipment that is customized to their needs.

CMS made this decision after bipartisan legislation (S.1132/H.R.2465) to ensure access to CRT, which was supported by 79 Representatives and 8 Senators. The ALS Association unwaveringly worked to achieve this success by making this legislation a priority at the National ALS Advocacy Conference and encouraging advocates to contact their Members of Congress. Read more to learn about this exciting legislative win.

CMS’s durable medical equipment benefit for complex rehabilitative technology (CRT) was drafted over 40 years ago. Since then, CRT equipment has advanced radically.  CRT products include power wheelchairs and the personalized accessories that go along with it, such as: custom head support and seating systems, mounting hardware, adjustable leg rests and more to help meet a person’s unique medical and functional needs.

Complex power wheel chairs
Examples of complex power wheelchairs

Of great concern to The ALS Association was CMS’ determination over the past several years to move CRT into a “competitive bidding” process that would make it much harder for people living with ALS to secure and maintain personally customized wheelchairs and accessories. Again and again, CMS announced their plans to do so.

Based on advocacy from The ALS Association and others, Congress has repeatedly rejected CMS’ plan to apply competitive bidding to CRT. If the CMS plan passed, it would mean that people who used this equipment would face numerous challenges when trying to access the appropriate equipment.

After a long fought battle, the ALS community achieved a very important victory! On June 23rd, 2017, the CMS announced that it has abandoned plans to apply competitive bidding rates to CRT Power Wheelchairs, which was set to go into place on July 1, 2017. Finally, CMS got the message that Congress wants to be sure that people living with ALS and other neuromuscular diseases who rely on CRT continue to have access to medically necessary CRT equipment.

The ALS Association worked closely with the National Coalition for Assistive & Rehab Technology (NCART) on this very important issue. This success wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous grassroots efforts from our advocacy community reaching out to their local legislators. All of the emails, meetings and outreach was listened to and acted on. CMS dropped its plans that would have made access to CRT much more difficult because of the pressure they felt from Congress.  As a result, people living with ALS will be protected from drastic reductions in access to specialized equipment that is medically necessary. Today, we can celebrate this win for our community, and recognize that our voices matter and are being heard!

A copy of CMS’ statement on Access to CRT can be read here: https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider-Type/Durable-Medical-Equipment-DME-Center.html

Be sure to thank your Senator or Representative if they helped make this possible. Our supporters in New York are Senator Kirsten Gilibrand (@SenGillibrand) and Representatives Tom Suozzi (NY-3; @RepTomSuozzi ‏), Kathleen Rice (NY-4; @RepKathleenRice ‏), Grace Meng (NY-6; @RepGraceMeng ‏), Jerry Nadler (NY-10; @RepJerryNadler ‏), Joe Crowley (NY-14; @repjoecrowley ‏), Eliot Engel (NY-16; @RepEliotEngel ‏), and Sean Maloney (NY-18; @RepSeanMaloney ‏). In New Jersey, we can thank Representatives Leonard Lance (NJ-7; @RepLanceNJ7 ‏) and Albio Sires (NJ-8; @RepSires ‏) for their support.

A Patient Advocate and Doctor’s Perspective on Clinical Trials: Update on the Retigabine Phase II Trial

Last week, Dr. Brian Wainger of Massachusetts General Hospital and Stephen Winthrop, Chairman of The ALS Association Board of Trustees, gave their unique clinical trial perspectives during the Northeast ALS Consortium (NEALS) webinar titled, “Retigabine Clinical Trial Update & Discussion with ALS Patient Advocate Stephen Winthrop.” For many years, The ALS Association has proudly partnered with NEALS to run ALS centered webinars to disseminate the most up-to-date information to the ALS community. Today’s post discusses the actively enrolling Retigabine clinical trial, which The ALS Association funds, as well as an honest perspective on what it is like to participate in ALS clinical trials.

 

Patient advocate and a championed NEALS Research Ambassador, Stephen Winthrop (pictured LEFT), joined the discussion to give his thoughtful perspective of clinical trial participation. Stephen was diagnosed with ALS almost four years ago and has been involved in over 12 ALS clinical trials – both observational (does not test a drug) and interventional (tests a drug), including the Retigabine study. The decision to participate in a clinical trial is a complicated question with arguments for and against. Stephen provides honest insights on the pluses and minuses of clinical trial involvement, while giving real life examples of some of his experiences.

“The quality and the experience will vary depending on the test and the individuals you are working with. It is a big question of fit,” Stephen explains.

He goes on to state, “The only way we are going to beat this awful disease is by finding a cure and one small way I can do that is by participating in clinical trials. Yes, it involves a needle stick and yes it takes a little time out of your day, but it is worth it. You are helping.”

Dr. Wainger (pictured RIGHT), one of the Principle Investigators of the Retigabine phase II clinical trial, gave a brief trial overview and update. The Retigabine trial is a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study to test the drug as a potential treatment for people living with ALS. The trial is actively recruiting at 12 sites in the U.S. The primary goals are to measure the effects of Retigabine on upper and lower motor neurons (i.e. the cells that die in ALS) physiology in people with ALS and evaluate safety outcomes.

During the first part of the webinar, Dr. Wainger explains the trial clinical rationale and goes over the study in detail including the goals, inclusion/exclusion criteria, the study timeline and what the study requires from its participants. The goal is to enroll at least 30 more ALS patients into the trial as soon as possible.

Watch the webinar here for all the detailed information.

The trial focuses on hyperexcitability of motor neurons. It was previously shown that people living with ALS have motor neurons (both upper and lower) that fire too many signals, meaning they are hyperexcitable. Too much firing leads to motor neuron damage. Retigabine is designed to reduce the over firing of motor neurons.

To physiologically test motor neuron hyperexcitability in trial participants in real time, the investigators use techniques called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and nerve conduction studies. These specialized tests are a way to measure the connections between motor neurons and muscles. TMS works by stimulating the motor cortex (part of the brain that controls muscle movement) with a magnet and records the response of the muscles in the hand. Nerve conduction studies evaluate the ability of motor neurons to conduct signals to muscles. An important secondary outcome of this study is to determine the potential for the use of these techniques for future ALS trials.

Stephen explains, “What they were trying to do using TMS, which looks like a ping pong paddle held above my head, was to try to make my right thumb to twitch by increasing the magnetic field. No pain was involved to see if my thumb twitched or did not twitch.”

One unique aspect of the Retigabine clinical trial to highlight is that each trial participant will donate a blood sample to be made into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These iPSCs are then made into motor neurons in a dish, which reflect the exact genetic makeup of the person they were derived from.

The effects of Retigabine on patient derived motor neurons will also be tracked and compared to the impact of the drug on the patient. This is the first ALS clinical trial to attempt this type of comparison, which has potential as a prognostic and diagnostic tool. Patient derived iPSCs could even possibly predict how a subgroup of ALS patients respond to a drug, which would improve clinical trial design and recruitment.

Stephen adds, “There are so many aspects of this study that is adding to the knowledge base that Brian and his colleagues around the country and around the world are using that plant seeds for clinical successes in the future.”

“One of the things I have said about participating in a clinical trial is that when you are in a room with someone with ALS, do not forget about the human dimension of what you are looking at here. Don’t forget to say to a potential participant, ‘I am sorry that you have been struck by this awful disease,’ and just let that pause. Don’t forget to say, ‘Thank you or thanks for your small part.’”

“In my own experience, those seemingly routine personal touches go a long way, because in the end I do think their decision to participate is fueled in part by just a little whisper of a hope that this will maybe help me. The bigger piece is that you, as a participant, are part of an army of people – I truly believe – will bring an end to this disease.”

We are thankful to Stephen for giving his honest perspectives and we value his dedication to the fight against ALS. With passionate, committed physicians, researchers, clinic staff, allied professionals and especially clinical trial participants – both living with ALS and healthy – all working together in clinical trials, we are many steps closer to a cure.

Watch the full webinar here.

For more information about the Retigabine trial visit the NEALS trial siteand clinicaltrials.gov #NCT02450552.

Q&A with Dr. Javier Jara – Novel Neuroinflammation Study Published

Dr Javier Jara 2The ALS Association sat down with Dr. Javier Jara, Research Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who just published groundbreaking work focused on brain inflammation caused by ALS. This work was published in the July issue of the Journal of Neuroinflammation. The ALS Association has proudly supported Dr. Jara since 2010 through both our Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and a recent Investigator-Initiated Grant.

Q: Thank you for joining us today! We were happy to hear the great news that your paper was just published. It is always rewarding to hear of our scientists’ successes. Congratulations! First, our readers and I would love to know why you love working in ALS research.

A: ALS is a very complex disease in which several cellular systems are disturbed. This allows me to tackle the disease from different angles, which could be a more efficient strategy to understand disease pathways.

Q: What are the major findings of your paper?

A: This paper sought to understand the role of inflammation, especially in the motor cortex of ALS (i.e. part of the brain responsible for muscle movement). We were able to study cells that are involved in immune response in the spinal cord and brain using green and red fluorescent protein tags. These cells were increased in numbers early in the disease and we were able to observe them in the vicinity of dying upper motor neurons in the motor cortex. Our observations in human ALS motor cortex also correlated with an increase of activated cells that participate in the immune response, which is important. Our studies are novel and bring a new perspective to the role of the immune response in ALS motor cortex pathology.

“This work would not have been possible without the support of The ALS Association through the Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. Obtaining this fellowship changed my career and I am extremely grateful for the donor’s support. I encourage donors to continue their hard work to support patient care and research.” – Dr. Jara

Q: What is the significance of your research?

A: By developing a novel ALS model to investigate inflammation, we were able to set up a strong foundation for future studies to understand the role of cells involved in the immune response. Because these cells are labeled with a fluorescent tag, we can visualize and isolate them from the brain and spinal cord at different stages of disease initiation and progression. We can also use various models that develop ALS due to different underlying causes.

Q: What are your next steps?

A: We are currently investigating the secreted factors and proteins that are increased during disease in these immune cells with the hope to establish novel molecular markers and identify therapeutic pathways.

Javier Jara_option2

Q: When we first funded your research, you were a Postdoctoral Fellow. Since then you have been promoted to Research Assistant Professor, which is excellent! What are your future career goals?

A: I would like to set up my own line of research in the near future and for this purpose I would like to obtain an independent faculty position. In 2015, I was funded by The ALS Association to set up an independent line of investigation from Dr. Ozdinler’s lab to understand the relationship between brain injury and ALS. With The Association grant and Dr. Ozdinler’s support, I was able to investigate what happens to upper motor neurons after a single mild cortical injury insult. These studies have been fruitful and I am currently writing a manuscript.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside the lab?

A: I am a runner and I enjoy running marathons. I have done five marathons so far, and I am always looking forward every year to start a new running season!

That is impressive! Thank you for joining us today. We are looking forward to hearing more great things out of your lab and to read your next manuscript!

Read more about Dr. Jara here and here.

Paper citation:

Evidence for an early innate immune response in the motor cortex of ALS.

Jara JH, Genç B, Stanford MJ, Pytel P, Roos RP, Weintraub S, Mesulam MM, Bigio EH, Miller RJ, Özdinler PH.

J Neuroinflammation. 2017 Jun 26;14(1):129. doi: 10.1186/s12974-017-0896-4.

PMID:28651542

Read free article here.

7 Climbers Tackled Mount Kilimanjaro to Raise Awareness for ALS

Kilimanjaro Graphic_AFTER CLIMB-01Nirali Shah recently returned from the journey of a lifetime, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

“It was definitely an adventure to say the least a lifetime experience it was more challenging than I had expected,” Nirali said. “Every day was longer than we had thought a bit more grueling.”

Nirali put together an international team to climb the world’s tallest free standing mountain in honor of her mother Sonal Shah, who passed away from ALS. The goal was twofold, to raise awareness for ALS and to raise funds for the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter. Nirali said when the climb got tough she just thought about her mom and everything she went through since her ALS diagnosis.

“It was really all about my mom, I would think about my mom, and all the ALS patients, it was a physical activity and it’s about pushing yourself to your limit. There were times I felt I couldn’t move and I thought if I feel this way how do ALS patients feel everyday dealing with their challenges, because this is nothing in comparison to the fight ALS patients’ face after their diagnosis. It really put things in perspective,” Nirali said.

5 out of the 7 climbers made it to the peak. Nirali came just shy of the top of the mountain when she got sick from the lack of oxygen.

“I got really close to the top I was about 100 meters short, I got really sick and was vomiting and fainting,” Nirali said. “I really thought about my mom at that moment near the top, all I could hear was my mom telling me to listen to my body and not be stupid.”

Nirali said she feels like this climb has made a difference.

“I think it really got people interested. I noticed even if the donations were small a much larger number of people stepping up to donate. People I followed up with were amazing and it unifies people around a cause. It’s just the way of grabbing attention and it’s what we need to create awareness,” Nirali said.

Nirali set a goal to raise $19,341, the height of Mount Kilimanjaro in feet. So far she is at about 60% of that goal but there is still time to donate and help Nirali and the team meet their goal. You can donate by clicking here.