Study Says Genetics May Play Larger Role in ALS

A new study suggests that genetics plays a much bigger role in ALS than previously thought.
Lou Gehrig
Past estimates said genetics accounts for about 10 percent of cases, but a new study by researchers at Cedars-Sinai and Washington University in St. Louis suggest that as many as one in three cases of ALS can be tied to genetics.

The finding sheds light on the possible genetic origin of the disease, particularly for patients who have had no family history for it.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a rare neurodegenerative disease marked by a wasting of nerve cells that control the muscles in your body. It is often fatal. Right now there is no cure for ALS and in 90 percent of the case, clinicians cannot point to a cause. It was thought that most of those so-called “sporadic” cases were the result of environmental factors.

But this new study in the Annals of Neurology, suggests that genetics may play a role in many of those cases.

Previous studies have identified about a dozen genetic variants associated with ALS – including variants in the C90RF72 gene and in another gene, SOD1. But the Cedar-Sinai and Washington University study identified many more rarer variants in those and other genes associated with ALS. Researchers suggest that alone these variants may not have a big impact, but acting in combination they do.

The hunt for the causes and possible treatments for ALS got a boost over the summer through the viral spread of the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” social media campaign.

The campaign generated some pretty good videos, and more importantly for researchers the campaign brought in close to $100 million during the summer. The ALS Association, recently gave researchers at Cedar-Sinai $1.6 million to support their work on the disease.