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Understanding ALS
The science behind the social media movement

Social media is flooded with videos of people pouring ice water over their heads in support of ALS, but how much do you really know about this disease?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) is a progressive, fatal disorder. About 30,000 Americans currently suffer from ALS, and approximately 5,600 Americans are newly diagnosed each year.

Initial signs of ALS include twitching, cramping, weakness in the legs and arms, and difficulty speaking, chewing, or swallowing. As symptoms spread throughout the body, weight loss, fatigue, exaggerated reflexes, and decreased coordination become common. Ultimately, patients cannot walk, stand, eat, or breathe without assistance. The disease does not impact a patient's intellectual capacity but increased susceptibility to pneumonia and respiratory failure results in half of all patients dying within three to five years of their diagnosis.

Learn more about ALS here.

Harvard scientists are making progress toward understanding ALS, as well as are investigating new treatment possibilities. In a paper published earlier this month, Harvard researchers revealed that they had new information on how ALS affects nerve cells, and suggested a possible new approach for developing drugs to fight the disease.

Earlier this year, Harvard stem cell scientists discovered that a recently approved medication for epilepsy might be a meaningful treatment ALS. The researchers are now collaborating with Massachusetts General Hospital to design an initial clinical trial testing the safety of the treatment in ALS patients.

The Harvard Neurodiscovery Center is working to develop new drugs to fight ALS, as well as to better understand the disease. 

Experts:
Robert H. Brown Jr., Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School

Kevin Eggan, Harvard University Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

Clifford Woolf, Professor of Neurology and Neurobiology, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Seward Rutkove, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School