Phoenix medical center to launch $1M ALS study in fall

Aug 27, 2015, 8:39 AM
(AP Photo)...
(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

When a patient is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the bad news only gets worse.

“The average life expectancy for someone with ALS, is two to three years,” Dr. Robert Bowser said.

Bowser, of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, underscored the word “average” because the neurodegenerative disease leaves a wide margin for guessing a patient’s true prognosis.

“In reality,” he said, “you can see a patient progress and pass within six months, while other patients might live far longer than a decade.”

That uncertainty has driven Bowser and his team to focus on finding ALS biomarkers that could help with diagnosis, prognosis, and medical intervention.

The biggest obstacle to finding those biomarkers is funding for a large study. “Clinical research is costly,” Bowser said.

Researchers got a big boost with last summer’s ALS Ice bucket challenge. It went viral on social media and splashed $200 million into the national funding stream, with a half-million dollars trickling down to Barrow’s ALS research labs.

“When we got the grant, the Gregory Fulton ALS Center matched that fund,” he said.

Bowser credited Ira and Mary Lou Fulton’s establishing the ALS Center in honor of their son, Greg. That has pushed Barrow into the forefront of ALS research in clinical trials, and likely, “helped land the ALS ice bucket challenge grant.”

With the $1 million, “We’re going to (recruit) about 200 patients and follow them over time,” Bowser said, “with the big question being, how rapidly do these (ALS variations) progress? And, can we identify markers that will denote who is going to progress rapidly and who is going to progress slowly?”

Two years into the three-year study, Bowser estimated important data will surface with clearer bio markers and possible clues help to stop the disease’s progression.

The Arizona Diamondbacks will be adding to the cause: Thursday at 10:15 a.m., they’ll douse themselves in an ice bucket challenge at Chase Field. Then the club will hand over a $10,000 check to help Barrow continue its research.

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Phoenix medical center to launch $1M ALS study in fall