MDA has awarded a grant totaling $347,094 over three years to François Berthod, a professor in the department of surgery at Laval University in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The funds will help support Berthod's study of the underlying molecular mechanisms and disease process in ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease).
ALS is characterized by the degeneration of motor neurons (nerve cells that control muscle movement) in the spinal cord and brain.
Berthod, who has a background in tissue engineering, previously has shown that human motor neurons can differentiate (mature) from a population of stem cells obtained from human skin.
Now, Berthod plans to develop a three-dimensional model of the human spinal cord using neural (nervous system) cells obtained from the tissues of people with ALS. The human tissue-engineered spinal cord (TESC) model is expected to mimic the human disease "in vitro," or in a laboratory setting. Its design will permit testing of the interactions of various neural cell types, including motor neurons and neuroprotective cells such as astrocytes, microglia and Schwann cells, as a means of determining the conditions that induce or aid motor neuron death in ALS.
Findings from Berthod's work are expected to improve understanding of the causes and progression of sporadic ALS.
"MDA funding over the years has been the only source of support for our research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis," Berthod said, adding that it's been "the strongest encouragement to continue developing innovative in vitro models of this disease."
Funding for this MDA grant began February 1, 2011.