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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

July 2020

Innovative ALS research fueled by $25 million from NIH

New initiative encourages research to transform treatment and prevention of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a devastating disease.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced plans to invest $25 million over five years in innovative research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This progressive and fatal neurological disease weakens and eventually paralyzes voluntary muscles. NIEHS is one of the institutes that will manage grants for Accelerating Leading-edge Science in ALS (ALS2), which launched June 17.

“Over the past few decades, there has been significant progress in our understanding of ALS, but we still do not have any breakthrough treatments for this terrible disease,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “We hope this program will inject new ideas to the field to push us rapidly toward effective therapies.”

stylized illustration of an ALS neuron Although the exact cause of ALS is unknown, research suggests that genes and environmental factors may play a role in the development or progression of the disease. (Image courtesy of Dreamstime, Copyright Andreus)

Venturing into new realms

ALS2 will be part of the NIH Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward (HRHR) research program, a time-tested, powerful approach to sparking innovation. Exceptionally creative research is inherently riskier in terms of successful outcomes, but it has the potential to transform biomedical science.

NIH will apply this potential to ALS2 through the Transformative Research Award initiative of the HRHR program. The Transformative Research Award is particularly well-suited to interdisciplinary teams of scientists who seek to combine their expertise and pursue new ideas to potentially transform ALS research.

Jonathan Hollander, Ph.D. Hollander oversees research grants on Parkinson’s disease, neurobiology, neurodevelopmental toxicology, and other topics, for the Genes, Environment, and Health Branch. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

“Given that a high percentage of ALS cases are sporadic, or occur with no known family history of the disease, it is critically important that we increase our understanding of the role of environmental factors in the development of ALS,” said Jonathan Hollander, Ph.D., who is leading the NIEHS effort. “NIEHS is excited to participate in this trans-NIH effort to help researchers identify modifiable risk factors and potentially form new treatment strategies in the study of this debilitating illness.”

Tools and talent

ALS2 will take a three-pronged approach to improve understanding of ALS.

  • Adapt emerging tools and technologies from neuroscience and cell biology to identify what causes ALS at the molecular level and how the disease progresses, leading to new therapeutic strategies.
  • Attract new talent from a range of scientific disciplines, including environmental health sciences, neuroscience, cell biology, bioengineering, genomics, chemistry, biophysics, and computational science.
  • Examine biological similarities between ALS and motor neuron disease in other neurodegenerative disorders, including frontotemporal dementia, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Kennedy’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy, and primary lateral sclerosis.

A Notice of Special Interest is now available. ALS2 is managed collaboratively by NIEHS and four other parts of NIH:

  • NIH Common Fund
  • National Institute on Aging
  • National Institute of General Medical Sciences
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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