June is ALS Month

Published: 7 June 2018

A look at the latest ALS research and clinical care at The Neuro

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a terrible disease with no known cure. Research at The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) is uncovering data that could help find effective treatments for ALS. 

ALS researchers at The Neuro have been working on this difficult disease for some time. Dr. Guy Rouleau, The Neuro’s director, was on the team that identified the first ALS gene in the 1990s. His team is one of several laboratories at The Neuro whose studies are starting to uncover the secrets of ALS, which is not a homogeneous disease but a group of diseases with some common features. Meanwhile, the ALS Clinic at The Neuro provides its patients with the latest treatments and specialized care.

Several hundred Canadians will be diagnosed with ALS this year. In any year, about three thousand Canadians and their families deal with the difficult challenges posed by a disease that progressively causes patients to lose control of their muscles.     

ALS remains a mystery to many Canadians, which is why The Neuro looks to inform the public during ALS Month in June and to appeal for people’s support for ALS research.  


ALS Clinical Care at The Neuro

The ALS Clinic is recognized as a model of multidisciplinary clinical care for patients and their families. Directed by a neurologist, Dr. Angela Genge, the Clinic has developed a program that mobilizes the use of specific resources at critical times in the progression of the patient’s disease. By the strategic use of specialized equipment, home care and palliative care, the Clinic has markedly improved the quality of ALS patients’ lives.


The ALS Clinic Team

Dr. Angela Genge, Clinic director, neurologist

Dr. Rami Massie, neurologist

Toni Vitale, clinical nurse specialist

Nathalie Magnan, respiratory therapist

Nazar Yuriv, spiritual care counselor

Kendra Berry, occupational therapist

Maura Fisher, physiotherapist

Kristina Salmon and Natalie Saunders, clinical research coordinators

Ritsa Argyriou, ALS Clinic coordinator

Mia Lanno, social worker

Nancy Anoja, genetic counselor

Tiziana Dirocco, speech therapist (on leave)

Carla Digironimo, speech therapist (temporary)


The Neuro’s ALS Researchers

Dr. Gary Armstrong is studying the cellular defects that occur in the early progression of ALS. His laboratory uses disease models, cellular assays and drug screening to identify chemical compounds that might be used to correct cellular defects.

Dr. Heather Durham seeks to understand why motor neurons become vulnerable to ALS damage and to find ways to boost defence mechanisms so that these neurons remain connected and function longer.

Dr. Angela Genge, a neurologist, is director of The Neuro’s ALS Clinical Research Program, which handles about 300 patients annually. She is also director of The Neuro’s Clinical Research Unit, where trials of five ALS drugs are underway involving about 20 patients.

Dr. Heidi McBride looks at how mitochondria, which are cell organelles that break down sugar and fat to generate energy, are regulated in both healthy and diseased organisms. Dr. McBride seeks to demonstrate how mitochondrial dysfunction might contribute to ALS onset.

Dr. Rami Massie, a neurologist, provides clinical care to patients from the moment of diagnosis to end of life. His research focuses mainly on ALS clinical trials.

Dr. Peter McPherson conducts research into the function of nerve cell proteins. Certain proteins appear to contribute to neurodegenerative and motor neuron diseases, and Dr. McPherson has demonstrated how one protein, Scyl1, can undergo mutations that lead to motor neuron degeneration similar to ALS in humans.

Dr. Guy Rouleau, director of The Neuro, contributed to the research that uncovered the first ALS gene. His team later helped to identify other ALS genes, notably TARDBP. Mutations in known and unknown genes, as well as unknown environmental factors, all predispose people to ALS. His team pursues a unique genetic study that is testing the contribution of somatic mutations across known ALS genes.

Dr. Eric Shoubridge uses his expertise in mitochondrial biology to study the first identified gene in ALS encoding a mitochondrial protein, CHCHD10.

Dr. Stefano Stifani looks at how vital motor circuits, such as those that control breathing, are assembled during development. The data that his laboratory uncovers can be used to generate motor neurons from ALS patients’ cells or from healthy individuals for comparison.

Dr. Hiroshi Tsuda examines genetic pathways and molecular mechanisms that underlie ALS. His research aims to develop therapeutics that could delay the onset and progression of ALS.  


About The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro – is a world-leading destination for brain research and advanced patient care. Since its founding in 1934 by renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro has grown to be the largest specialized neuroscience research and clinical centre in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. The seamless integration of research, patient care, and training of the world’s top minds makes The Neuro uniquely positioned to have a significant impact on the understanding and treatment of nervous system disorders. In 2016, The Neuro became the first institute in the world to fully embrace the Open Science philosophy, creating the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute. The Montreal Neurological Institute is a McGill University research and teaching institute. The Montreal Neurological Hospital is part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre.

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