By Richard Asinof
BOSTON – A new biomarker in the blood has been identified that signals the earliest stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according an article published on Aug. 6 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The findings suggest that the immune system plays an important role in the development of ALS, and may provide doctors with a means of monitoring the progression of the disease through a simple blood test.
“This new biomarker provides us with a tool for better understanding the beginning stages of ALS, and may allow us to track the disease with a simple blood test,” said Lucie Bruijn, of the ALS Association, the only national nonprofit organization fighting ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The discovery was made by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Tufts Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. The work was funded in part by the ALS Association.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. People stricken with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. There is no cure and no life-prolonging treatments for the disease.
Currently, the only way to track the progression of ALS is through clinical measurements, such as muscle strength, which fluctuate over the short term, leading to the need for long-term clinical trials with large numbers of patients.
An objective biomarker that changes with the disease and in response to therapy offers the possibility of shorter and smaller trials, leading to faster discovery of new therapies.