Gene Ups Risk of Lou Gehrig's Disease
Genetic Mutation May Nearly Double Risk of ALS
July 8, 2003 -- A genetic abnormality may almost double a
person's chances of developing Lou Gehrig's disease, known among doctors as
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. A new study shows people with the gene
were 1.8 times more likely to have the incurable neurological disorder.
Although ALS can sometimes be found within families,
researchers say most people with ALS have no family history of the disease, and
few risk factors for the disease are known other than age and male sex.
The deadly disease, which was nicknamed "Lou Gehrig's
disease" after the famed baseball player died of the disease in 1941,
usually strikes men over age 40 and causes the muscles to gradually waste
In a study published in Nature Genetics, researchers
looked at genetic samples from 1,900 people in Sweden, Belgium, and England and
found people with mutated versions of the gene known as VEGF were nearly twice
as likely to have ALS than others.
In addition, when the mutated VEGF gene was added to mice bred
to develop ALS, they developed a more severe form of the disease and became
paralyzed much more quickly.
The VEGF gene is involved in the growth of blood vessels, and
researchers found the ALS mutation caused this process to slow down.
Researcher Diether Lambrechts of Handers Interuniversity
Institute for Biotechnology in Leuven, Belgium, and colleagues say finding a
genetic link to Lou Gehrig's disease may eventually lead to new treatments for
the disease and help identify those most at risk.