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May 23, 2018 3:26 pm

Israeli Scientists Seek Effective Treatment After Making Major Breakthrough in ALS Research

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The late British physicist Stephen Hawking, who was the longest-lived sufferer from the neurodegenerative disorder ALS, April 25, 2007. Photo: REUTERS/Charles W Luzier/File Photo.

Scientists at Tel Aviv University have made a major breakthrough in research into the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that could lead to effective treatments for the incurable disorder.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that slowly destroys the body’s motor functions, leading to complete paralysis and eventually death. Its most famous sufferer was the late physicist Stephen Hawking, who lived with the disease for decades.

A research team at TAU led by Doctor Eran Perlson has now discovered that the disease causes muscle cells to release toxins that destroy their connection to nerve cells, leading to the loss of motor functions. In addition, they found a molecule that blocks the release of these toxins, which could lead to the development of effective medication for the disease. Their findings were published in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience.

Perlson told the Hebrew news site Walla that while the functional effect of ALS was previously known, “Until today researchers did not understand how and why this occurred, and in essence, why among all the nerve cells in the body, it specifically harmed motor nerves. The understanding of the mechanism that causes the disease is a positive step toward developing a medication in the future.”

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According to Walla, the researchers discovered that the level of toxins in the relevant cells was lowered by the presence of micro-RNA molecules called mir-126. The molecule was tested on rats, who showed significant improvement in their condition.

“We believe our discovery is a major breakthrough on the way to developing an effective medication for ALS, and perhaps for other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s — in which other types of nerve cells are destroyed,” Perlson stated.

Professor Vivian Drori, an expert in ALS, sounded a note of caution, however, saying, “There are sometimes breakthroughs, but there is a long way between a breakthrough and discovering a medication. This puts some pieces together, but there are many more gaps in the puzzle.”

A previous breakthrough in ALS research was also made in Israel. In 2017, Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, developed a treatment for the disease. Though it did not cure the disorder, it significantly slowed its progression.

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