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Living with ALS: What We’ve Learned

Yesterday, our interview with ALS blogger and three-star member Rachael gave you a glimpse into what it’s like to live with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  Today we take a closer look using the data and experiences shared by our 4,844 ALS members, who comprise the world’s largest online ALS population. ALS, which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a degenerative disorder affecting upper motor neurons in the brain and lower motor neurons in the brain stem and spinal cord. Some of the most debilitating symptoms include progressive weakness, atrophy, fasciculations (muscle twitches), dysphagia (swallowing difficulty), and eventual paralysis of all respiratory function.  Other commonly reported symptoms are shown in the chart above. Given the severity of ALS symptoms, the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages two to five years from diagnosis, according the ALS Association (ALSA).  However, ALSA states, “The disease is variable, and many people live with quality for five years and more.”  Rachael, who is six years post-diagnosis and living a busy, active life thanks to assistive technology, is a perfect example. What does assistive technology entail?  For many ALS patients like Rachael, this involves the use of medical equipment to aid basic functions such as: Walking …

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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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