SAN FRANCISCO (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) - This year, more than 5,600 people in the United States will be told they have ALS.
Within five years, many of them will be robbed of their ability to work, to walk, to even talk... until one day, they won't even be able to breathe.
Now there may be new hope to slow the effects of this devastating disease.
ALS patient Mary Pat Murray says, "I can carry on a conversation. I can eat. I can drink. I can have a normal life, as normal as my life is now."
But Pat Murray knows what ALS will eventually do to her.
Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS destroys the nerve cells, eventually attacking every muscle in the body.
Neuroscientist and Neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Dr. Azad Bonni, explains, "It hits people in the prime of their careers, the prime of their lives. So, it's quite devastating."
Right now, there is only one drug, Riluzole, approved to treat ALS, but Dr. Bonni says it's ineffective. His research suggests that a heart drug may slow the destruction of nerve cells in ALS patients.
"We have found one of the targets that may be important in the disease, is an enzyme that actually has been used as a target for drugs in heart disease," says Dr. Bonni.
In ALS, cells that support nerve cells are more active than they should be and actually cause nerve damage. Studies in Bonni's lab show the drug Digoxin targets the support cells, slowing them down. Mice in his lab lived 20 more healthy days, it doesn't seem like a lot, but in human time, it is!
Dr. Bonni says, "We're looking for ways to not only extend life, in these types of diseases but also improve the quality of life."
Pat Murray knows it might be too late for her, but with each new drug, comes new hope for other people not yet diagnosed.
Drugs that target support cells may turn out not only to be beneficial for ALS patients but also those suffering from other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and Parkinson's diseases, but researchers stress more testing will need to be done before such drugs can be tried in patients.