motor neuron disease

Research, support and hope for spinal muscular atrophy

If you know PatientsLikeMe, you know that neurological conditions take us all the way back to our beginning. Stephen Heywood, the brother of our founders Ben and Jamie, was diagnosed with ALS back in 1998 at age 29. Today, almost ten years after PatientsLikeMe was created, thousands of members living with ALS and other neurological disorders are sharing their stories and donating health data to help improve the lives of others and contribute to medical research. And in the spirit of Stephen and everyone living with these conditions, we’re recognizing Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month this August. Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) affects the nerves responsible for movement, including breathing and other bodily functions. It is inherited through genes passed on by parents who are carriers of the genetic code. SMA affects people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. There are four types of SMA – Types 1, 2 and 3 all affect children and adolescents, while type 4 is usually limited to those above the age of 35. And although SMA is classified as a rare condition, think about this: SMA affects approximately 1 in every 6,000 babies, and about 1 in 50 people are carriers for the condition.1 So …

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A new gene for ALS: What sharing your genetics could mean for research

In today’s issue of the journal Science two papers describe the discovery of a new gene for ALS (you can read the abstracts here and here). Around 90% of ALS cases are sporadic, i.e. we don’t know what causes them, but for 5-10% of patients the disease runs in their family (known as familial ALS, FALS). Until today, there was only one major causative gene that we knew about, called SOD1, which accounted for 20% of familial cases. Today’s new discovery of the gene FUS (also known as ALS6) accounts for an additional 3-5% of familial cases and was the result of an international collaboration between scientists in Boston, London, and Sydney. This is very exciting for research because the more we know about what causes ALS, the better our chances of finding an effective treatment through better understanding of the pathways involved in motor neuron degeneration. Here at PatientsLikeMe, we’ve recently upgraded our ALS platform to capture data on familial ALS patients’ known genetic mutations. The goal is to help familial ALS patients find another patient like them, and to enhance understanding of the phenotype of each mutation, e.g. if different types of mutation cause a faster or slower …

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ALS Symposium 2008: New features for ALS patients

This blog post is the second in a series from our attendance at the 19th International Symposium on ALS/MND in Birmingham UK in November 2008. When PatientsLikeMe attended the previous ALS/MND Symposium in Toronto Canada in December 2007, I was given a platform presentation to show the assembled clinicians, scientists and researchers what we had developed for patients with the condition. This year, as part of a session on the history of ALS/MND patients online, I was given the opportunity to show attendees some of the improvements we had made to the site since that time. * Percentile curves for patients with PLS – When I said that we had more than 100 patients with PLS registered on the site, there was a collective gasp from the audience. Our large sample has allowed us to show PLS patients how they compare with other PLS patients for the first time. (Available to PLS members of the ALS/MND community) * Geomapping – Patients on our system can see a map of the world and see registered users nearby using a Google Maps API developed by our resident geomapping whiz Steve Hammond. This allows patients in isolated areas, or even busy cities, to …

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