Taiwan researchers working on method to predict, slow ALS progression

06/04/2019 09:09 PM
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Chen Jun-an (陳俊安, center)
Chen Jun-an (陳俊安, center)

Taipei, June 4 (CNA) Scientists in Taiwan are getting closer to finding a way to determine how the degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) will progress after a patient has been diagnosed, a researcher said Tuesday.

Chen Jun-an (陳俊安), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica, said that very little is known about why people develop ALS, except for the fact that 10 percent of ALS patients have a family history of the disease.

Chen said he and his research team have embarked on a study to find out how ALS progresses after it develops and what kind of therapy can be used to slow its progress.

Currently, they are conducting experiments on mice, which have shown that if a certain type of molecule can be restored by means of gene therapy, it will slow the progress of the disease, he said.

In ALS patients, motor neurons gradually break down and die, which means the brain will have difficulty communicating with the muscles of the body. As a result, the muscles weaken and eventually the patient becomes paralyzed.

The Taiwanese researchers have identified a cluster of motor neurons that seem particularly vulnerable and are likely to be the first to break down when ALS occurs, Chen said.

A decrease in the ribonucleic acid (RNA) in that particular cluster of motor neurons, known as mir-17~92, was found linked to the degeneration of motor neurons in general, he said, citing his team's research on mice.

The research also found that an increase in that particular RNA will delay the paralysis of mice with ALS, which suggests that the progress of the disease could be predicted by looking at the viability of mir-17~92, Chen said.

Furthermore, through gene therapy and it may be possible to extend the lifespan and improve the mobility of ALS patients, he said, citing positive results in both of those areas in his team's study of mice.

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Cell Stem Cell on May 30.

Chen said, however, that his research team will have to conduct further studies on animal cells before progressing to human cells and eventually to clinical trials.

(By Wu Hsin-yun and Chung Yu-chen)


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