September 14, 2009

Three genes liked to Lou Gehrig’s disease

Michigan Technological University researchers say they have linked three genes to the most common type of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Professor Shuanglin Zhang, who led the research, said the discovery does not mean an end to ALS -- also known as Lou Gehrig's disease -- but it could provide scientists with valuable clues as they search for a cure.

University officials said Zhang started showing symptoms of the disease four years ago and now breathes with support from a respirator. He works at home with the aid of a research assistant and his wife, Qiuying Sha, an assistant professor and member of his research team.

It's very challenging to map genes for complex diseases, and while many statistical methods have been developed, most don't work well in practice, said Associate Professor Xiaofeng Zhu of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. "Zhang's group has developed a method to detect genes and gene-gene interaction in complex diseases and provided evidence that it works.

Their findings will need to be confirmed by other researchers, but I think this will be very useful for the investigators who are trying to find genes underlying complex diseases such as ALS, Zhu said.

The research is detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.