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Lou Gehrig’s disease by Jeremy Horton

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The disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is one that affects the brain and spinal cord.  The disorder causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the body caused by the degeneration of the upper and lower motor neurons.  In 1869, French neurologist Jen-Martin Charcot described the disease.  In 1939, Lou Gehrig who was also known as the Iron Horse of baseball retired from major league baseball after being diagnosed with ALS.

Losing control of one’s ability to regulate your own body movements and function would be a dramatic life change for one to endure but fortunately the disease is not very common.  The US on average, only has about five thousand new cases each year.  The disease is found to be more common in men than women.

The reason why people get ALS has not yet been discovered. The belief is only about five percent of the cases are due to genetics.  The cases that are due to genetics are believed to occur because the body stops making superoxide dismutase, which is an enzyme.  This enzyme is what the body uses to fight off the byproducts of metabolism, which can cause damage to the body.

Other possible causes for Lou Gehrig’s disease are environmental such as being around heavy metals or fertilizers.  Some other possible causes are physical body damage or even getting it from some type of viral infection.

More often than not, the disease begins in a person’s extremities, and then gradually spreads into the rest of the body.   The early signs of ALS start off as simple as one experiencing symptoms such as cramping and stiff muscles.  As the disease worsens in the body, it takes the muscles to the point of being paralyzed and ultimately affects one’s ability to breathe and swallow.

Other notable people that have or had suffered from ALS other than Lou Gehrig are, Stephen Hawking, Chinese leader Mao Zedong, and football player Steve Gleason just to name a few on a list longer than you would think. I believe the most remarkable one being Hawking, who was informed at the age of 21 he would not survive the next two years and that was thirty years ago.

There is still not a cure for ALS, but researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, located in Boston have been working to find a cure. What they have found in experimenting with mice is not a cure but possibly a way to slow down the pace of the disease. While researching, they also found a way to detect the early stages of ALS. What they found was when the brain first starts to show some signs of being affected; the spleen starts to produce more monocytes. These monocytes are the body’s way of trying to fight something that should not be there.  They found these monocytes are going to the brain and in trying to do their job, are actually causing damage to body tissues not needing to be fixed.

The researchers believe they can test and someday use this on humans and hopefully slow down the ALS in people who have been diagnosed with it and possibly find a way for early detection.


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