ALS Center Research

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research at Wake Forest School of Medicine is divided into two equal parts that work together to test promising therapies and develop ideas about the cause of ALS. Our goal is to generate novel treatments for this disease.

ALS Clinical Research Unit

The Clinical Research Unit provides patients with the opportunity to receive the latest experimental therapies and to supply information and biological samples that will further our understanding of ALS.

ALS Translational Science Unit

The Translational Science Unit (TSU) aims to illuminate the cause and progression of ALS and to test novel therapies that can slow the progression of the disease.

The TSU recently received a major grant to study the process of the nerves disconnecting from the muscles at the earliest stages of ALS. Learning about this process may lead to new ideas about how to keep these connections intact.

Current research projects highlights

  • Examining the role of signal transduction pathways in mediating motor neuron survival and death during central nervous system development.
  • Determining the motor neuron stress response and the role of astrocytes and muscle in the disease.
  • Identification of cerebrospinal fluid antibodies as potential biomarkers for ALS.
  • Identifying early changes in spinal cord and neuromuscular junctions in ALS.

Despite the importance of muscle strength in preventing physical disability, the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for the age-dependent decline in the neuromuscular system are only partially understood. The main focus of our research is to determine the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the age-dependent alterations in structure and function of motor neurons and skeletal muscle fibers.

Particularly, we are interested in:

  • The reciprocal interaction between muscle cells and spinal cord motor neurons.
  • The role of trophic factors and ion channels in tissue function.
  • Interventions aimed at ameliorating or delaying the age-dependent impairment in the neuromuscular system.

Current ALS Research Projects

One of our current projects is examining the very early events in ALS disease process, specifically those associated with muscle weakness. Muscle weakness occurs because the motor neurons, the cells that no longer function and die in ALS, lose contact with their target muscle.

Motor neurons are complicated cells because their cell bodies are in the spinal cord, and they extend processes through the nerves to contact target muscles.

Read more about this ALS research project (PDF).

Electronmicroscopy with Sherry Vinsant

Learn more about electronmicroscopy and the role it plays in ALS research from research assistant Sherry Vinsant, who talks with Dr. John McConnell.

Research Funding and Gifts

Learn more about ALS research and how you can help by:

  • Seeing our ongoing and previous research
  • Making a donation

Our research is funded in part by The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Hopkins, National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Blazeman Foundation and the WFSM Translational Science Institute.