Our ALS Research

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rapidly progressive, fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. As many as 20,000 Americans have ALS, and an estimated 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year. ALS is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, and people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are affected.

In 90 to 95 percent of all ALS cases, the disease occurs apparently at random with no clearly associated risk factors. About 5 to 10 percent of all ALS cases are inherited. ALS most commonly strikes people between 40 and 60 years of age, but in some cases younger people can also be affected. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within 3 to 5 years from the onset of symptoms.

Researchers at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics (HIHG) led by Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., are involved in numerous studies with institutions around the world to find the genetic causes of ALS. By focusing on large families with a number of members suffering from ALS, the team has pinpointed genes that play a role in the disease. Equally important, the team also has studies examining how the environment reacts with these known genetic factors to trigger the onset of ALS.