Treatment for Lou Gehrig's disease moves ahead
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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