University of Southern California

Finding a cure for ALS

Motor neurons derived from an ALS patient (Image courtesy of the Ichida Lab)

The Choi Family Therapeutic Screening Facility is instrumental in helping Dr. Justin Ichida screen for drug-like compounds to cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

In ALS, patients suffer from the death of motor neurons that transmit signals from the brain to the muscles, leading to paralysis and usually resulting in fatal respiratory failure within three to five years of diagnosis.

Dr. Ichida’s work is part of a $1.5 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense in collaboration with two biotech companies, Icagen and DRVision, to discover and screen  compounds to slow or stop ALS. The team is screening 3,000 compounds at the Choi Family Therapeutic Screening Facility, and an additional 40,000 compounds at Icagen. Although they are still in the early stages of the project, they have already found compounds that keep motor neurons alive in Petri dishes—and could eventually do the same in patients.