Northwestern Medicine to receive $10 million for ALS research

Christine Farolan, Copy Chief

The Les Turner ALS Foundation pledged $10 million to Northwestern Medicine to advance treatment and research for the disease made prominent by the ice bucket challenge craze.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative condition that attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord, leading to paralysis and death.

The donation funds the new Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center that will unite the University’s two existing ALS research laboratories and its patient care center, all of which are already funded by the foundation. The project also includes a new lab which will open January.

Though the foundation has been buoyed by recent ice bucket challenge donations, the new center has been in the works for six to eight months, said Wendy Abrams, the foundation’s executive director.

“We were already putting this all together,” Abrams said. “We had no idea ‘ice bucket’ was coming.”

The challenge caused donations to the foundation to increase by more than 3000 percent during the first half of August, as compared to the same time period last year, according to Northwestern Medicine.

The new center will group all NU ALS programs under one umbrella, making it easier for research labs and clinics to work together to fundraise and apply for research grants, Abrams said.

“It helps our families and donors see that everything is together and we’re stronger by putting it all together and moving it forward,” Abrams said.

About 5,600 people are diagnosed every year with ALS, according to the ALS Association, which estimates as many as 30,000 Americans currently living with ALS.

NU has been at the forefront of ALS research.

In 2011, Feinberg neurology Prof. Teepu Siddique and his team discovered a common cause of ALS. He said he is “very optimistic” about the future of research on the disease.

Siddique leads one of the labs under the new ALS center and said he believes having adequate resources is the final step in fighting the disease.

“If we focus on what we have defined as the major mechanism of the disease, there is real hope for finding a cure,” Siddique said.

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