Scientists at Penn State College of Medicine suggest that measuring changes in certain proteins in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may better predict the progression of the disease.
ALS is often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a neurological disease in which the brain loses its ability to control movement as motor neurons degenerate. The course of the disease varies, with survival ranging from months to decades. "The cause of most cases of ALS remains unknown," said James Connor, Distinguished Professor of Neurosurgery, Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Pediatrics. "Although several genetic and environmental factors have been identified, each accounts for only a fraction of the total cases of ALS." This clinical variation in patients presents challenges in terms of managing the disease and developing new treatments. Finding relevant biomarkers, which are objective measures that reflect changes in biological processes or reactions to treatments, may help address these challenges.
The project was led by Xaiowei Su, an M.D./ Ph.D. student in Connor's laboratory, in collaboration with Zachary Simmons, director of the Penn State Hershey ALS Clinic and Research Center. Su studied plasma and cerebrospinal fluid samples previously collected from patients undergoing diagnostic evaluation, who were later identified as having ALS. Analysis shows that looking at multiple biomarkers to predict progression is not only mathematically possible, it improves upon methods using single biomarkers. Statistical models analyzing plasma had reasonable ability to predict total disease duration and used seven relevant biomarkers.