Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)-New Twists on Root Causes
|Teacher, Mentor and Friend Dr. Pat Carr has been a key figure in helping shape the direction of my company. He has a gift for communicating the nuances of his research and coaching me on how to best serve labs like his. Based on these interactions, it came as no surprise to learn of his being Recognized for Excellence in Teaching, Research and Service at University of North Dakota.
“Dr. Carr has a magic way of teaching,” said second-year medical student, Tyson Bolinske. “He is able to take the most difficult topics and, through detailed notes, logically break down the material.”
From a recent dialog, I learned of his growing work on the Ventral Horn and search for root causes of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). I wanted to learn more! I would like to thank Pat for agreeing to share his story and giving me the opportunity to feature highlights in “News Behind the Neuroscience News”.
Information on ALS
ALS is an insidious disease. It is a progressive neurodenerative disease that is always fatal. Approximately 5600 new cases are diagnosed each year. Average survival is typically 3-5 years from onset. The most common form of ALS in the United States is “sporadic” ALS. It can happen to anyone at anytime. The other is the inherited form named “Familial” ALS (FALS). Only about 5 to 10% of all ALS patients appear to have FALS. As the disease progresses the symptons become more acute. Paralysis spreads through the body affecting speech, swallowing, chewing and breathing. Ventilator support is need in late stages
Pat took the “road less traveled”. He was a passionate hockey player in Canada. He concluded in his late teens that he was not at a level to take this road to wealth and fame.
06/04–present Associate Professor, Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of North Dakota
1996–98 Research Associate/Adjunct Assistant Professor/Auxilliary Assistant Professor, Department of Anatomy;Wright State University
07/98–06/04 Assistant Professor, Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of North Dakota
Postdoc, National Institutes of Health, Neuroscience, 1994-96
Postdoc, University of Manitoba, Neuroscience, 1992-1994
Ph.D., University of Manitoba, Physiology, 1992
Next was a stint as an automechanic in Brandon, Canada. The discipline and logic involved in fixing cars catalyzed an interest in Science which led to him going to Brandon University to study Geology. When the oil market collapsed in 1983, he decided to change his studies to Zoology and earned a BS in 1984.
A passion was sparked when he did field research in the Canadien Rockies studying parasites in Columbian Ground Squirrels. He loved it, but recognized the limited value of continuing thsese studies. This lead to the wide open field of Neuroscience and the opportunity to study and solve problems that could benefit mankind. His graduate work at University of Manitoba and focusing on Neuropathic Pain and the Dorsal Horn. He then moved on to studying Ventral Horn and Motor Control Function for his Post Doc at Wright State.
From Pain to ALS
It was Pat’s work in Pain at the University of North Dakota that brought me into initial contact with him. He generously put some of our key Pain/Inflammation and Neurotransmission Research Antibodies through their paces. These included some of our Neuropeptide and Neuropeptide Receptors , P2X Receptors and TRPV1s (Vanilloids).
His previous work in studying the Ventral Horn combined with a colleagues mouse model of ALS combined to create a prefect opportunity to advance the understanding of ALS. Pat cautioned me with this insight: ”sometimes it is not what you want to study; it is what you can study. The model is SOD1 (superoxide dismutase 1) which is core to FALS.(occurs in only about 10% of the ALS cases).
Pat is broadening the play field by looking at what else is happening in sporadic ALS vs FALS. Specifically, he is looking at modulation of alpha Motor Neurons and how the activity of adjacent Renshaw Cells impact signaling and modulation. Renshaw Cells act as a “governor” on the activity of these alpha Motor Neurons.
He is drilling down by studying the signaling of ChAT (Choline Acetyltransferase), VAChT (Vesicular acetylcholine transporter) and related molecules. By gaining a deeper understanding of how Renshaw Cells signaling changes the activity of alpha Motor Neurons in ALS, Pat and his team are taking steps towards discovering roots causes.
As these root causes are further illuminated, I will be reporting specifics in my blog.