Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Heavy metal paradox could point toward new therapy for Lou Gehrig's disease

New discoveries have been made about how an elevated level of lead, which is a neurotoxic heavy metal, can slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease – findings that could point the way to a new type of therapy.

The results surprised researchers, since lead is also a known risk factor for ALS. This paradox is still not fully understood, and at this point would not form the basis for a therapy, as lead is toxic for the nervous system. But scientists say the phenomenon may lead to promising alternative approaches to the gene therapies that are now a focus of study.

The research was just published in Neurobiology of Disease, a professional journal, by researchers from the Instituto Clemente Estable and the University of the Republic in Montevideo, Uruguay, and at Oregon State University. The research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health.

"We know that environmental exposure to lead is a risk factor for ALS," said Joseph Beckman, holder of the Ava Helen Pauling Chair in the Linus Pauling Institute and director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center at OSU. "That's why it's so surprising that, according to studies done with laboratory animals, higher levels of lead appear to significantly reduce motor neuron loss and progression of ALS."

Research will continue to explore the underlying mechanisms that may be causing this, Beckman said. But the findings also raise immediate questions about the wisdom of chelation therapy in efforts to treat ALS, which many people have tried despite no evidence that it works. Chelation therapy tries to remove heavy metals from the body, including lead.

"Many people have spent thousands of dollars on chelation therapy to treat ALS, despite a lack of scientific evidence that heavy metals are causing the disease," Beckman said. "These findings about the potential protective mechanism of lead now raise concerns about the rationale for chelation therapy in treating ALS."

ALS is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the body. There is no known cure, and it affects about 2-3 out of every 100,000 people each year.

According to Beckman, some of the findings about the role of lead in this disease evolved out of collaborative research OSU is doing with universities in Uruguay, where significant numbers of children from impoverished families are suffering from lead poisoning caused by setting up camps over abandoned lead factories near Montevideo.

"In this area there are huge problems with lead poisoning, mostly in children," Beckman said. "People are being exposed through their water, food, other environmental sources, and we've worked there for a number of years to learn more about the neurotoxicity of lead exposure."

Lead appears to have some interaction with astrocytes, Beckman said, a special type of cell that is believed to influence the spread of ALS. Astrocytes are a major component of brain cells and, in healthy systems, help to support neurons, defend them against infection and injury and remove neurons when they become damaged.

This delicate process, however, may get disrupted in ALS, at which point astrocytes are believed to play a role in causing inappropriate motor neuron death.

"These systems are very carefully balanced and many factors have to work together," Beckman said. "The proper functioning of astrocytes is essential to life, but their dysfunction may lead to disease. We think that lead somehow is modulating the neuroinflammatory actions of astrocytes and, in the case of ALS, helping to shift their balance back to one of protection, rather than damage."

When that happens, researchers say, it appears that astrocytes can stimulate the production of "vascular endothelial growth factor," which in turn protects motor neurons. Researchers around the world see increases in this growth factor as a possible way to help treat ALS, and most work is now focused on gene therapies to accomplish that. More research is necessary to determine the mechanisms by which lead has this protective effect, which may help to identify pharmacological targets for the disease.

The levels of lead that were therapeutic in the mice have toxic risk in adult humans, the researchers pointed out. However, as more is learned about how lead is affecting ALS, alternatives to lead might be found to accomplish the same goal.

"Available evidence supports the view that astrocytes are key targets of lead and respond to it by inducing neuroprotective pathways," the researchers wrote in their report. "Our results suggest that lead activates a novel pathway able to reduce neuroinflammation and slow neurodegeneration in ALS."

Joe Beckman | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia
21.10.2016 | Universitätsklinikum Magdeburg

nachricht New potential cancer treatment using microwaves to target deep tumors
12.10.2016 | University of Texas at Arlington

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>