UK-based biotechnology company Oxford BioDynamics will conduct research to develop a better diagnostic test for the crippling disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) through its subsidiary in Penang, Malaysia, the company announced in a statement.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the famous American baseball player whose career was ended by the then-unknown, crippling, and ultimately fatal condition, is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the function of nerves and muscles and shortens lifespan. With onset of the disease, nerve cells called motor neurons progressively waste away, inhibiting the brain’s ability to initiate and control muscle movement. Eventually, patients lose the ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow and breathe.
Perhaps the best-known sufferer of ALS is the physicist Stephen Hawking, who was first diagnosed in the mid-1960s, and at age 74, is unique in having lived far beyond the expected lifespan for most ALS victims.
The research program will recruit ALS patients and healthy subjects in Malaysia and will be overseen by Professor Goh Khean Jin, head of neurology at the University of Malaya, the company statement explained. The study in Malaysia will develop a test designed to help doctors diagnose the disease within weeks of initial symptoms appearing in patients, which would be a great improvement over the current diagnosis time of up to a year, because the variety and complexity of symptoms for ALS sufferers makes confirming the disease extremely difficult.
“The effect of delayed diagnosis in ALS patients can be catastrophic for quality of life among patients,” said chief scientific officer and co-founder of Oxford BioDynamics Dr. Alexandre Akoulitchev. “Our work in Malaysia, looking at how chromosomes fold differently inside healthy and diseased cells, will help us bring forward fully developed biomarker tools for patients with ALS.”