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 away.
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.