January 28, 2009

Spinal fluid proteins may be ALS marker

U.S. scientists say high levels of certain spinal fluid proteins may signal the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University-Hershey said their finding might lead to diagnostic kits for early diagnosis, accurately measuring the progression of the disease and monitoring the effects of treatment.

ALS is caused by the degeneration of nerve cells controlling the voluntary movement of muscles. However, it is hard to diagnose because symptoms such as muscle weakness are common in other ailments and there is no diagnostic test for the disease, the scientists said.

The disease has to progress far enough so that the patient begins to experience significant muscle weakness, so that a physician can identify the problem, Professor James Connor said. "If we had a biomarker we could start treatments earlier and perhaps save more nerve cells and slow the disease.

We found a set of 11 proteins that were significantly higher in the spinal fluid of ALS patients, Connor said. With the help of the biomarkers, he said his team was able to identify the spinal fluid samples from ALS patients with 92 percent accuracy.

The study is reported in the journal Neurology.