A Missouri biologist is researching new ways that could improve the lives of people diagnosed with ALS.

The neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that controls how muscles operate.

University of Missouri-Kansas City professor Thomas Menees received a grant to advance a promising drug to treat the disease.

“That is the idea or even halt it, or in the best circumstances, potentially reverse it if you can begin treatment early enough,” said Menees. “By untangling this TDP-43 molecule in motor neurons that are affected in the ALS patients, you can allow those motor neurons to survive longer.”

Menees explains that the disease causes your motor neurons to die.

“So they die and then the brain can no longer initiate and control muscle movement,” he said. “When that voluntary muscle action is affected, people begin to lose the ability to speak, eat, move, breathe, it affects these very basic functions. The result, if that’s not stopped, is eventual death.”

What makes matters more difficult is that getting a diagnosis early on is very difficult.

“Patients will often begin to have trouble moving and maybe their speech becomes slurred,” explained Menees. “So they’ll go into their doctor, well that could be due to ALS, but it could be due to a number of other things. They could be having a mild stroke. There could be other issues going on with them.”

Currently, there are no treatments that alter the course of Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS, and death typically occurs within two to five years of diagnosis.

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