July 17, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Joins Genetic Fight against ALS

Dr, Rick Myer
HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology President Dr. Rick Myers (Huntsville Times)
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Huntsville's HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is joining top researchers across America and Canada to fight one of the world's most devastating diseases. HudsonAlpha will work with Duke University to sequence the genomes of 500 patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) over the next two years. The ultimate goal is to sequence the genomes of 1,000 people within five years.

The disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease and motor neuron disease, is a fast-moving, fatal disorder that causes progressive muscle weakness and wasting. Its cause is unknown.

There is only one approved drug for ALS, and it typically extends survival by only a few months. Life expectancy after the onset of symptoms is usually three-to-five years.

The new study, funded by the biotechnology company Biogen Idec, puts HudsonAlpha and Duke in partnership with several ALS and genetic researchers. Dr. David Goldstein, director of Duke's Center for Human Genome Variation, will lead that university's effort.

"Our hope is that the scientific discoveries resulting from this project will be translated into treatments that alleviate suffering and save the lives of people touched by this terrible disease," Dr. Richard Myers, HudsonAlpha's president and director, said in a statement.

"Identifying the mutations that can lead to neurodegenerative disease provides a key foothold for developing new therapies and a framework for understanding variation in how patients progress and respond to treatment," said Duke's Goldstein. "Biogen Idec understands the importance of academic and industrial partnership in the effort to build as complete a picture of ALS genetics as possible...."

Other scientists and institutions involved include:

-- Dr. Robert Brown, a neurologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School whose career is devoted to indentifying the gene mutations that cause ALS.

-- Dr. Aaron Gitler, a Stanford University geneticist working in the area of risk factors for ALS

-- Dr. Tom Maniatis, a Columbia University microbiologist studying changes in gene expression associated with ALS

-- Dr. Guy Rouleau, a University of Montreal neuro-geneticist and expert in neurological diseases

-- Dr. Neil Shneider, a neurologist and neuroscientist at Columbia University's Motor Neuron Center who studies the mechanisms of motor neuron degeneration in ALS.

The HudsonAlpha institute is the cornerstone of the Cummings Research Park's Biotechnology Campus. Its three-fold mission is genetic research, economic development and education.

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