ALS Research
ALS Faculty at lab bench

From bench to bedside

Leading the way in ALS research.

An unparalleled research team with collaborators across the globe leverages basic science, clinical, and observational studies to work towards alleviating suffering in ALS and one day making it a preventable disease.

Our Key Moments
Our ALS program launches
The overarching goal? Develop ALS therapies. We investigate the potential of insulin-like growth factor I for slowing the death of motor neurons (those involved in ALS).
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We test noninvasive ventilation to help ALS patients breathe with greater ease. (image shows motor neurons)
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A new therapy target
We test another treatment candidate, vascular endothelial growth factor, which slows the degeneration of motor neurons. (image shows vascular endothelial growth factor receptor activation (arrows, yellow) in a motor neuron)
image shows vascular endothelial growth factor receptor activation (arrows, yellow) in a motor neuron image shows vascular endothelial growth factor receptor activation (arrows, yellow) in a motor neuron
Preclinical studies
We launch preclinical studies of stem cells as a potential ALS therapy, testing feasibility in animal models. (image shows stem cells)
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Stem cell trials
We report on our phase I trial of stem cells in ALS, our first findings in humans, which deemed the stem cells safe. Plans are set in motion for a phase II trial. (photo courtesy of CNN)
The epigenome
We initiate studies of the so-called “epigenome” in ALS, that is, regulatory elements that control gene expression. In this instance, we look at DNA methylation.
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An imaging study
We conducted an imaging study of ALS patients, which revealed changes in neurotransmitters (molecules that aid nerve conduction).
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The impact of environmental pollutants
We launch our first investigations into the impact of environmental pollutants on ALS risk. We find that pesticides and fertilizers are linked to ALS onset.
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More discovery related to stem cells
We discover that insulin-like growth factor I expression enhances the potential of stem cells as an ALS therapeutic. (image shows human spinal stem cells expressing insulin-like growth factor I)
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A busy year!
We publish the findings of our phase II trial of stem cells for ALS. Again, our results find the treatment is well-tolerated. (image shows human neural stem cells labeled with an MRI-contrast agent (red)
We embark on our inquiries into the immune system's involvement in ALS status.
The environment and ALS
We expand our studies on environmental pollutants in ALS, finding a link between persistent organic pollutants and disease risk.
We extend our study of the ALS “epigenome” by investigating regulatory elements called microRNAs.
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Immune cell discovery.
We discover that distinct types of immune cells correlate with ALS progression. (image shows immune cells)
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Advocacy and research
We publish a perspective piece in JAMA Neurology advocating more research on the impact of environmental pollutants on ALS risk.
The metabolome
We initiate our studies of the ALS metabolome in patient plasma, that is, the cumulative of all metabolites. This is linked to biological processes occurring in ALS.
ALS and metals
We find that early exposure to specific metals is linked to ALS risk. (image shows metal levels (red/high to blue/low) in a ALS preclinical model brain)
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Research expansion
We expand our studies of the immune system in ALS to find sex and age-specific differences.
Extracellular vesicles
We investigate “extracellular vesicles” in ALS, small packages that carry biological material around the body. (image shows extracellular vesicles isolated in a human brain)
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The Lancet & ALS
We are invited to write two reviews on recent advances in ALS in the top neurology journal, The Lancet Neurology.
A new drug therapy
We launch preclinical studies of an immune targeting drug, tofacitinib, as a potential ALS therapeutic.
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Pollution & ALS
We link persistent organic pollutants with ALS risk and survival and establish an environmental risk score to summarize the combined effects of pollutants and pesticides.
We received a CDC grant to launch the Michigan Brain, Health, and Environment Study, which will investigate ALS risk factors in a prospective cohort of 4000 healthy people.
The microbiome
We Investigate the link between the gut microbiome and ALS disease mechanisms, which may lead to new therapeutic targets, pushing our results in Brain. (image shows the microbiome)
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Research initiatives
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The Exposome

How exposures experienced over a lifetime—from pollution to diet—affect ALS risk and survival.

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Studying the immune system and ALS to identify more effective therapies.

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Observational Studies

Following people over time to understand who gets ALS what exposures affect ALS risk, as well as brain health.

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The Biorepository

The ALS Biorepository began in 2012 and currently houses over 20,000 samples from over 1,000 patients (both those with ALS and healthy controls). Samples stored include white blood cells, isolated RNA, isolated DNA, plasma, urine, fecal samples and fibroblast lines, as well as spinal cords from patients who died from ALS. Not only do we use the biorepository for our own ALS research, but samples are shared with top institutions worldwide.

Clinical Trials