CENTER FOR COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) brutally targets nerve cells. The disease first causes progressive muscle weakness and, typically within three years, results in paralysis and death. Baseball player Lou Gehrig and scientist Stephen Hawking both contracted ALS, and today over 200,000 people worldwide live with the disease. While scientists have linked several genes to ALS, core questions remain about what sets off the cascade of neuron damage and how the disease progresses.
The answers to such questions may be within reach, thanks to a pioneering approach in which researchers are able to examine whole slices of spinal cord tissue — throughout the course of the disease — and to study how the various cell types present there interact and contribute to the disease’s progression. And for the first time, technology exists that allows researchers to see gene expression patterns at a high resolution throughout the spinal cord.