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Treatment for Lou Gehrig's disease moves ahead

gehrig October 21, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Dan Rutz

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- It took a disabling nerve disorder to end Lou Gehrig's historic string of 2,130 consecutive games with the New York Yankees. Gehrig retired in 1939; in 1996, a cure for the disabling disorder that bears his name has yet to be found.


But doctors say that after years of stagnating research, there is new hope for sufferers of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Doug Jacobson is also an athlete stricken by the disabling disease. His sports were biking and running; his first symptom of the weakened muscles that would take him out of the game was an unaccustomed clumsiness.

Eventually, Jacobson was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the medical name for Lou Gehrig's disease. "We are exactly like you except our muscles don't work anymore," Jacobson said. "Our hearts still do."


Jacobson's hope: that one day he will be able to get up out of his wheelchair. Baylor Medical College researcher Dr. Stanley Appel thinks there is a chance that it could happen.

Appel believes that ALS researchers are coming out of a long research slump. "It's different this time, primarily because we've gained tremendous insight into the fundamental biology of the motor neuron," Appel said.

Drug treatment approved

Just this year, the first drug for treating ALS was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In experiments, rituzole didn't help much with the loss of power in the arms and legs, but it may buy patients a little more time.

"It meant that patients who took the drug lived a few months, about three months longer than those who did not take rituzole," said Dr. Yadollah Harati, also of the Baylor College of Medicine.

A second drug, myotrophin, is still in the testing phase. It may do more than prolong live by actually protecting the nerves. "This is a natural growth hormone, and in testing it seems to preserve the nerve cell function, or prevent the deterioration, and may also cause some nerve regeneration," said Dr. Eugene Lai, another Baylor researcher.


Images of Lou Gehrig inspire Dr. Appel, but the science is what excites him. The gains are modest when each of the two drugs is used alone, but when used together, Appel believes he may find that each boosts the action of the other.

Doug Jacobson is still waiting to try out the new drug myotrophin. For now, there is a shortage, so the manufacturer is holding a lottery.

In the meantime, Jacobson maintains an Internet site on ALS to help others keep the faith. "As long as you have love, faith and hope, every day that you don't wake up dead is going to be by definition a great day."


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