News Brief: Orla Hardiman, Merit Cudkowicz Win ALS Research Prize

The American Academy of Neurology will honor two scientists for their contributions to research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at its annual meeting in Seattle, Washington, at the end of the month. The pair study opposite ends of the ALS disease process but both will receive the Sheila Essey Award—An Award for ALS Research. Orla Hardiman of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, will be recognized for her work in identifying human gene variations associated with ALS; Merit Cudkowicz of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, will be honored for her research focused on drug development.

Hardiman’s work is focused on what causes ALS. She and colleagues identified angiogenin as a gene mutated in both sporadic and familial ALS (see ARF related news story and Greenway et al., 2006). Angiogenin promotes blood vessel growth and also participates in neurite extension (Subramanian et al., 2008). In another paper, Hardiman and others performed a genomewide association screen to pick out DP66, which encodes a protein that helps make up potassium channels, as a gene associated with risk for developing ALS (see ARF related news story and Cronin et al., 2008).

In contrast, Cudkowicz focuses not on the source of ALS but on how to treat it. She has led clinical trials of potential ALS therapeutics, such as recent evaluations confirming the safety of the drugs sodium phenylbutyrate (Cudkowicz et al., 2008) and arimoclomol (Cudkowicz et al., 2008). Currently, there is only one FDA-approved treatment for ALS, riluzole, and more effective drugs are urgently needed. However, scientists have struggled to find drugs that work as well in people as they do in mice (see ARF Live Discussion).

Hardiman and Cudkowicz will each receive $25,000 to be put toward further ALS research during the AAN’s 61st Annual Meeting in Seattle, to be held April 25 through May 2, 2009.

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