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Scientist Seeks Cure For Lou Gehrig's Disease, Creating Device To Find Treatment

Date:
August 2, 2007
Source:
Geisinger Health System
Summary:
Scientists are seeking a cure for a devastating neurodegenerative condition, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. A cure -- or perhaps a treatment -- might be found in the right mix of the millions of drugs and drug compounds developed in laboratories across the world. Researchers are designing a device to efficiently test those compounds. And that's bringing us closer to a cure.
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FULL STORY

A small tropical fish, the curiosity of a Geisinger research scientist and some college students have created the perfect storm of sorts in an attempt to find a cure for one of the world's most devastating neurological diseases.

On initial glance, there doesn't seem to be much in common between zebrafish, researcher Glenn S. Gerhard, MD and a trio of Bucknell University biomedical engineering students. Yet they're each playing a critical role in clearing a major roadblock in the search for a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease.

Lou Gehrig's disease-or ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-- is a fatal neurodegenerative condition that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. As many as 20,000 Americans suffer from ALS and about 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.

It's an aging-related disease that has long fascinated Gerhard, a staff scientist in Geisinger's Weis Center for Research.

Gerhard believes that the cure for the disease--or at least a more viable treatment option--can be found in the right mix of the millions of drugs and drug compounds that have been developed in laboratories across the world.

"There are so many different compounds but you don't know which ones to test," Gerhard says. "We need bioengineering help to automate this process."

That's why Gerhard turned to the zebrafish and Bucknell University professor Joe Tranquillo and students Erica Andreozzi, Meredith Kalman and Emily Thiel.

Several years ago, Gerhard started using the zebrafish, which can be easily bred and tends to exhibit disease's effects at an accelerated rate.

Yet the instruments needed to use these small and inexpensive fish for finding new drugs have not yet been brought to market.

The students have developed a working prototype screening plate that allows scientists to quickly expose zebrafish to ALS and mix chemicals together.

What once took weeks or months to screen thousands of potential cure-carrying chemical solutions may soon take days, and with far fewer research staff involved. A streamlined screening process will free up precious resources in the lab, Gerhard says.

The Bucknell students worked throughout the spring semester to improve on their design.

"In their first three years, Bucknell biomedical engineering students compile an excellent set of technical and design skills through a number of open-ended experiences," Tranquillo says. "But they truly become engineers in their senior year when they meet with a medical professional, identify a real problem and spend a year solving that problem. The rich and educational interactions between Dr. Gerhard, Erica, Meredith and Emily were extraordinary to witness. "

Geisinger Ventures, which is the health system's corporate development arm, arranged the partnership between Gerhard and the Bucknell team.

Ventures is now seeking a corporate partner willing to license the invention for production and distribution.

Geisinger Ventures nurtures innovative ideas, licenses and brings to market intellectual property, develops business plans, and catalyzes growth of for-profit companies. Gerhard's work fits perfectly into Geisinger Ventures' mission, says director Bryan Allinson.

"Ventures-worthy ideas generally are focused on a better way to use a device, a piece of equipment or a process," Allinson says. "The work with zebrafish has the potential to identify therapeutics that could help the thousands of people who suffer from ALS."

In the disease's early stage, symptoms may be so hard to detect that the disease gets overlooked. But by the end stages of the disease, the patients are totally paralyzed.

"ALS is a terrible disease," Gerhard says. "Your brain is fine but your body and your muscles just waste away."


Story Source:

Materials provided by Geisinger Health System. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

Geisinger Health System. "Scientist Seeks Cure For Lou Gehrig's Disease, Creating Device To Find Treatment." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 August 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070730111614.htm>.
Geisinger Health System. (2007, August 2). Scientist Seeks Cure For Lou Gehrig's Disease, Creating Device To Find Treatment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 25, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070730111614.htm
Geisinger Health System. "Scientist Seeks Cure For Lou Gehrig's Disease, Creating Device To Find Treatment." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070730111614.htm (accessed May 25, 2024).

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