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Julianna Margulies: Working Mom, ALS Advocate

How this busy actress takes care of herself and those with Lou Gehrig's disease.

Margulies and Project ALS continued...

"Jenifer used to say to me, 'My mind is sharp as a tack but my body is shutting down, and it's torture,' " Margulies remembers. "I watched her struggle to walk, and then 6 months later she couldn't brush her hair because she couldn't lift her arms. In the end, she had a breathing tube."

Her friend passed away in 2003, but Project ALS is now a leading force behind finding a cure. With a mission to fund top researchers and encourage them to collaborate, Project ALS opened the world's only privately funded stem cell research lab, named after Estess and housed at Columbia University.

Stem cells, found in the umbilical cord, placenta, and bone marrow, can be "taught" to become any cell in the body. At the Estess Laboratory, scientists have discovered how to make motor neurons from stem cells, an advance that may lead to a cure not only for ALS but for other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Huntington's, and Alzheimer's.

For Margulies, standing up for a cause is a necessary part of feeling fulfilled, along with giving her all to her family and career. "At a certain point, you have to choose the life you want to have, take responsibility, and realize you create your own life by making choices," she says.

"Don't like what your body is saying to you? Get to the gym. Want to be an actor? Give it a shot. For me, it was a long road to understanding what I wanted. But I really do believe that hard work gets you to a place that, if you want something, you can have it."

Other ALS Research

Project ALS has raised close to $70 million to help find a cure for ALS. The condition affects about 30,000 Americans. Here are some of the ways scientists are working toward a better understanding of ALS.

Studying ALS's effect on nerve pathways: Scientists use stem cells to model ALS in a petri dish so they can study how the disease affects nerve pathways in the body. The hope is to understand the disease well enough to reverse its course.

Introducing replacement cells: "We can now get stem cells to live in the spinal cord, but getting them to grow out and reconnect with the target muscles is the challenge," says Valerie Estess, director of research at Project ALS. The long-term goal is to be able to replace dying motor neurons with healthy ones.

Identifying markers:  Scientists are also working on identifying biomarkers, such as a protein in the motor neurons that changes due to the disease. ALS is often diagnosed only after a person develops symptoms. Biomarkers specific to ALS would help doctors identify the condition earlier.

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Reviewed on August 12, 2013

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