Western researchers discover protein link between CTE, ALS

Dr. Michael Strong and Alex Moszczynski, PhD, in the lab at Robarts Research Institute at Western University. Western University, 2018

The lead investigator on a study out of Western University is describing the results as the “holy grail” of where to start for designing therapies for ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The study involved patients in the general population with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and patients with ALS who also have CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is often associated with athletes in contact sports.

Researchers compared the two diseases and found the exact same abnormal buildup of a particular kind of protein called tau.

“Really critical to this study, we showed that we could reproduce that with a single injury to an experimental animal in a rat,” principal investigator in the study, Dr. Michael Strong, told 980 CFPL.

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“This is what the publication is really critical for. It shows that we have these two diseases and we can produce this change in a model. That’s kind of the holy grail of where you start for designing therapies.”

The study builds off previous research that showed that the prevalence of ALS among those with CTE was about 800 times higher than in the general population.

“For every 100,000 people that you see, you might see two who have Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Strong explained.

“So when you think that we’re talking about six or eight per 100, of those who actually have CTE, definitely a subgroup of athletes, that’s far more than you would ever expect.”

Going forward, Strong hopes to use the model to understand the earliest biochemical change to learn how to prevent it.

“The second piece is that, a few years ago, we actually published some work showing that in this pathway that’s happening for this abnormal protein,” he explained, “when we do that in cell culture and we have a way of reproducing this we can actually stop it with very specific medications.”

The next step is to take it into the animal model to see if medications would work there as well.


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