Local man leading charge on ALS research
"I would say most people out there would say ALS is probably one of the most devastating, if not the most devastating, disease they can think of. You know, you're losing all of your ability to move but your brain is still intact,” said Dr. John Landers, a professor at UMass Medical School.
Soon after diagnosis, ALS begins to rapidly strip patients of their ability to move, talk, and eat. The deadly disease leaves them trapped in their own bodies, and it has no cure. Colonie native and RPI graduate, Dr. John Landers, wants to change that. He's at the helm of an international team of more than 80 researchers in 11 countries working to find what causes ALS.
"In reality, we don't really know what's going wrong in ALS patients,” he said.
Now, Landry's had a break through. Landers and his team have discovered a new gene known as NEK1 that's directly related to the disease.
"By us identifying more and more genes, what it does is it allows us to figure out what pathways are altered or defective in ALS patients and as a result of that we can start to think about therapeutics,” Landers explained.
He says the discovery wouldn't have been possible without a million dollar grant from the ALS Association, money the organization just didn't have the first time he asked for it.
"Lucky for us the ice bucket challenge actually kicked in a couple of months later,” Landers said.
About $120 million dollars was raised when the ALS ice bucket challenge went viral on social media, but Landers says equally as important is the *awareness the videos raised.
"That's an incredible achievement, just being able to take a disease that frankly not many people were familiar with and now nearly everyone knows about it,” Landers said.
According to the ALS Association, more 6,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year, that's 15 new cases a day, and Landers says right now there's only one drug on the market for treatment that has minimal impact