The largest-scale search for genes that underlie sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most common form of the disease, has crossed its first hurdle with the successful compiling of genetic information on more than 1,000 patients and controls.
Researchers in the study, supported by The Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the ALS Association, present their initial findings this week at the 17th International Symposium on ALS/MDA at Yokohama, Japan. The symposium is the major venue, worldwide, for reporting studies on the disease.
It’s a good beginning to the first broad screening for genes for the “spontaneous” illness which, like all ALS, destroys the motor neurons that enable movement, including breathing.
Packard Center grantee Bryan Traynor and John Hardy, both with the NIH, are leading an American and Italian team of researchers in the million-dollar project. “If all goes well,” Traynor says, “the work will clarify the role of genes-or lack of it-in sporadic ALS. That role has long been uncertain,” he explains. “We don’t know, for example, if sALS is triggered by a handful of interacting genes or genes plus environment or environment alone. Our work aims to clarify that.”
In the study, DNA was collected from patients and healthy controls and successfully scanned for specific patterns that appear more frequently in those with the disease than those without it.
Critical to the work-known to scientists as a high resolution, genome-wide association study-is its technology. It’s a high-throughput approach (that is, it treats many samples simultaneously) that uses robotics and just-available gene finder chips to mine each patient’s DNA for information with a speed and accuracy not possible six months ago.
The project, which began last spring, was completed in record time, reflecting the highly collaborative nature of the involved scientists and clinicians. The NINDS, for example, contributed the American samples in the study from among those that ALS clinicians at multiple medical centers nationwide sent to its new national repository.
The researchers anticipate important analysis and conclusion-drawing will occur in the next few months.
Finding genes that lead directly to ALS or that predispose people to the disease should provide new targets for therapies. In the decade since discovering the cause of some inherited forms of ALS-namely, a mutation producing a flawed version of the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD1)-a handful of other ALS-related mutations have been brought to light.
The genetic underpinnings of sporadic ALS, however, are far less certain. Sporadic ALS, affecting 90 percent of ALS patients, apparently arises spontaneously without family history. Even though the disease is clinically indistinguishable from the ALS that runs in families, different genes may be responsible for each. Something is held in common, however, in the way that they both kill motor neurons. That’s why a gene change identified in one type can help understand the other.
Finding a scientifically significant tie between a gene or genes and ALS in this work will set the stage for even larger international investigations. “But even if we get no associations,” says Traynor, “that would suggest that sALS isn’t gene-based, that we should focus instead on the environment.”
Marjorie Centofanti | EurekAlert!
Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'
23.01.2018 | Rutgers University
Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant
23.01.2018 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)
Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.
Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
23.01.2018 | Life Sciences
23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences
23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy