VCU joins Virginia universities researching ALS

VCU, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech are collaborating with biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to conduct an ALS research program, which will use stem cells and 3-D modeling to seek new therapeutic approaches to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

“If we do this right, we can make these connections and make them work functionally,” said Jerome Strauss, dean of VCU Medicine.

According to the ALS Association, the progressive and neurodegenerative is fatal, but first restricts patients from speaking, eating, moving or breathing.

There are two types of ALS. The Sporadic form accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all cases in the U.S., whereas Familial ALS (FALS) is the inherited form and makes up the remaining 5 to 10 percent of cases. There is a 50 percent likelihood that children will inherit the gene mutation and may develop the disease in FALS cases.

Last month, the Virginia Biosciences Health Research Center sponsored a luncheon in downtown Richmond at the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park, adjacent to the VCU Medical Center.

The luncheon addressed the new Virginia Neuroscience Initiative, which is a statewide attempt at enhancing university partnerships with commercial companies to further brain research for diseases like ALS.

Some of last month’s luncheon panelists included VCU’s Strauss, Virginia Tech’s Carilion School of Medicine executive director Michael Friedlander, U.Va. biology professor George Bloom and director of the Center for Neural Informatics Giorgio Ascoli.

During the luncheon, Friedlander said a disease model needs to be developed with stem cells from the patients to better investigate the disease.

“It is inclusive,” Friedlander said. “It brings in folks from areas of cancer proteomics, behavior, education.”

Friedlander thinks scientists can work to find the key disease mechanisms, the molecular levels, how to target those mechanisms and how to show they actually have an affect.

“That’s something we have work insidiously to achieve, but I’m convinced from my conversations with my colleagues at VCU and other institutions that this is something that can happen,” Strauss said.

Sophia Belletti, Staff Writer

11802522_10207448112303567_588286187022952754_oSophia is a sophomore journalism major who writes for the Odyssey in addition to the news, sports and spectrum sections of the CT. Sophia also works in sales at Nordstrom and likes hiking and going to concerts. // Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn

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