Widely Available Drug May Help Treat ALS

Published: 30 April 2002

An antibiotic commonly prescribed for acne may slow the development of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, according to a study conducted at the McGill University Health Centre Research Institute. The study found that the antibiotic minocycline delays the onset and progression of disease in a mouse model of ALS. The research, co-authored by Jasna Kriz, Minh Dang Nguyen and Jean-Pierre Julien, will be published in the June issue of the journal Neurobiology of Disease.

A steadily progressive and fatal neuromuscular disease, ALS erodes a person's motor neurons, eventually leading to total paralysis and the inability to speak or swallow. People with ALS usually die within two to five years of diagnosis. Little is known about the cause of ALS and there is no cure. It is a disease of national importance, affecting between 1,500 to 2,000 people in Canada at any one time. Two to three Canadians a day die of ALS.

"The analysis that was carried out by Jasna Kriz clearly demonstrates that minocycline delays the onset of neuronal loss and prolongs life in ALS-mice," says Professor Jean-Pierre Julien, principal investigator of this study. "Minocyline is potentially more effective than other treatments currently available and it has no adverse side effects. Our results clearly indicate that the next step is to commence clinical trials."

Dr Julien's discovery is funded by a unique partnership between the ALS Society of Canada and the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada (MDAC), This partnership, in collaboration with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), has funded over $6 million of neuromuscular research in the past two years.

"As there is currently little effective pharmacological treatment for ALS, this breakthrough research provides hope, where there has been little, to those who are living with ALS and their families," says Suzanne Lawson, National Executive Director for the ALS Society of Canada. "We are pleased that research, funded by our collaborative initiative with MDAC and CIHR, has resulted in such an important discovery that will significantly impact future ALS research."

The MUHC study compared the life span, muscle strength, neuronal loss and inflammatory response in ALS-mice that were fed a regular diet with those given food containing minocycline. The mice fed the minocycline lived substantially longer, had a delayed onset of neuronal and muscle deterioration, and a noticeably reduced inflammation of their brains.

"This is very exciting news for CIHR," says Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). "Dr. Julien's discovery is an excellent example of how innovative outreach partnerships, such as this one between the ALS Society and MDAC, can work. I congratulate Dr. Julien and his team for their important discovery that offers the promise of better health for ALS patients."

"Canadian scientists continue to contribute advances in research so that anticipation is now greater than ever that the next few years will provide genuine effective therapeutic approaches for many neuromuscular disorders," said Dr. Eric Shoubridge, professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Montréal Neurological Institute and Chair of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada. "The excellent work of my colleague Dr. Julien greatly furthers this cause."

"We initiated this study because we suspected that the inflammation in the brain contributes to the disease process. In addition to being an antibiotic, minocycline demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties. Thus by attenuating the inflammatory response, minocycline was able to delay the onset of the disease and consequently prolong the life of these animals," says Julien.

About the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada

Canadians with neuromuscular disorders have a right to enjoy a good quality of life as independent, mobile, productive and fully contributing members of Canadian society. Since 1954 the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada has been funding leading research to find therapeutic approaches to neuromuscular disorders. Until then the Association is committed to providing vital services, information and hope to tens of thousands of Canadians affected by these disorders.

About the ALS Society of Canada

The ALS Society of Canada is a national voluntary organization dedicated solely to those affected by ALS, raising funds for research and supporting quality care for persons affected by ALS. The ALS Society has partner units in every Canadian province. The ALS Society of Canada has funded research by Dr. Julien for more than five years. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ALS Society.

About the Canadian Institutes of Health Research

CIHR is Canada's premier agency for health research.  Its objective is to excel, according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence, in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products,
and a strengthened health care system.

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