On the trail of the virus: New Grant supports INET project for preventing ALS
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a non-curable degenerative disease of the motor nervous system. The cause of the disease is largely unknown: In addition to genetic factors, viruses are also suspected to be involved in the development of the disease. At the Institute of Network Biology (INET) of Helmholtz Munich, Pascal Falter-Braun and his research team aim at discovering the involvement of viruses in ALS development using interactomics. The team has now received an ALS Association Grant Award for the project “Understanding and Preventing Virus-triggered ALS”. The project started on 31.01.2023 and is funded by the ALS Association with about 400.000 USD over two years.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a non-curable degenerative disease of the motor nervous system that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their demise. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. People may lose the ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe. Usually, the disease has a lethal outcome. A famous personality, who was affected by this disease was Stephen Hawking, who, however, lived with it for an unusually long time.
The cause of the disease is still largely unknown. Several viruses are epidemiologically associated with neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases; however, it has not been determined whether these viruses are the cause of such non-infectious diseases. In ALS, a link between viral infection and disease development has been assumed, but the proof – and therefore an antiviral treatment – is still missing. At the Institute of Network Biology (INET) of Helmholtz Munich, Pascal Falter-Braun and his research team are investigating this question. For the awarded project, the team will analyze 10 viruses suspected to play a role in the development of ALS. Their aim is to identify molecular human-viral contact points to create an “interactome” (i.e., the overall network of molecular interactions in cells) and shed light on viral participation in ALS development. If successful, this approach could be used to help identify drugs that could be repurposed to prevent ALS development.
To date, the majority of ALS prevention research has focused on identifying potential risk factors. However, to be able to prevent the disease and its harms, research needs to develop ways to predict when ALS symptoms will develop and viable strategies to intervene before symptoms emerge. To help translate ALS prevention strategies into the clinic, the ALS Association launched a new funding opportunity in 2022. The project of Pascal Falter-Braun and his team is one of the first six grants awarded from this program, that will support the development of translational science, interventions and tools that could eventually prevent or delay the onset of ALS by investigating genetic and environmental risk factors.
About the scientist:
Prof. Dr. Pascal Falter-Braun is Director of the Helmholtz Institute of Network Biology (INET) at Helmholtz Munich
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