How can we beat ALS Disease?
February 03, 2020 | Farah Jassawalla

How can we beat ALS Disease?

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly recognized as ALS, is a disease that specifically causes the death of motor neurons, limiting the voluntary motion of an individual. Also called motor neuron disease (MND), it is difficult to assess the cause of the disease and its onset in most of the cases but can be attributed to both genetic and environmental factors. So far, there is no cure for ALS and treatments currently administered to patients is primarily targeting the symptoms of ALS disease.

Symptoms of ALS disease:

The first symptoms of ALS disease include weakness in the arms or legs or facing difficulty while trying to speak or swallow. About half of the people diagnosed with ALS disease have reported having trouble thinking, experiencing behavioral problems, and even getting pain. In the final stages, ALS symptoms consist of difficulty walking, using your hands, losing the ability even to speak, swallow, and finally to breathe. 

Beating ALS disease:

ALS disease gained notoriety due to the famous ice bucket challenge in the summer of 2014. A golfer in Florida started the challenge, and it soon became viral and raised 220 million dollars for the research and development for the cure of ALS disease. The major obstacle in overcoming ALS is that the disease is virtually undetectable before the onset of its symptoms. The future of beating the fatal ALS disease is to invest in the mapping of what the causes of ALS disease are and trying to develop tests that can detect the disease before the symptoms appear.

In 2017, a drug called Edaravone was approved by the FDA to be administered intravenously to treat ALS Disease. Simultaneously, research is being conducted into developing a medication that can be administered orally to reduce the cost of treatment and make it more accessible to a larger population. 

As far as future prospects go, researchers are looking into developing other agents like the tyrosine kinase inhibitor, masitinib, as a potential treatment for ALS disease. European researchers have already started research on its possible effects on the disease and are optimistic after the results of preliminary studies.

Alternatively, researchers in America began a study to gauge five experimental drugs developed to defeat ALS disease. Five drug companies are currently working on initial trials to find a conducive cure to the disease by first trying to isolate the causes and diminish the effect of the disease on the body. Due to the rare incidence of the disease, and the difficulty in assessing its symptoms, the market for developing a cure is very limited. Thus larger drug companies have not invested heavily in a cure. Instead, smaller biotech labs are mobilizing resources in generating academic data on these diseases. For a better chance to fight this disease, more money needs to be invested in the development of experimental drugs that are safe for clinical trials and can, thus, help treat patients with the disease. Also, the Haley Centre at the Massachusetts General Hospital is aiming to start the platform trial in the first months of 2020 for possible cures for the ALS disease.

Currently, the primary focus is to recognize people who have been diagnosed with ALS disease, with many healthcare institutions developing a registry for patients to sign up if they have been diagnosed with ALS disease. This also serves as a means of observing the developing pattern in the various ALS symptoms and mapping out trends in how the condition of a patient may deteriorate. The symptoms are primarily being targeted by research and development teams around the world to ease the conditions of people suffering from ALS disease and to at least counter the symptoms enough to better the quality of life for people suffering from the disease.

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Farah Jassawalla

Farah Jassawalla is a graduate of the Lahore School of Economics. She is also a writer, and healthcare enthusiast, having closely observed case studies while working with Lahore's thriving general physicians at their clinics.