Bike rides don’t often spark symposium topics.
But when P. Hande Ozdinler, PhD, assistant professor in Neurology, heard of Bob Lee and his quest to ride around the country to raise awareness for cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and hospice care, a seed had been planted. Like the bike ride, scientists could make greater strides by combining their research with those of investigators in other fields.
To that end, Ozdinler organized the 3rd Annual Les Turner Symposium on ALS and NeuroRepair to highlight the molecular link between often disconnected fields of study, inviting respected leaders from areas as diverse as chemistry and neurology.
“One of the problems that has plagued studies of neurodegenerative disease is understanding what is really going wrong and having a good model for understanding it,” said Scott Brady, PhD, head of anatomy and cell biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a leader in the field of axon transport. “It turns out that in ALS and a number of other neurodegenerative diseases, we found that there are breakdowns in the regulation of this transport. Things don’t get to where they need to go and as a result you lose the function and the connectivity.”
Held Friday, May 31, the symposium featured speakers from the Departments of Neurology, Molecular Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry, Chemistry, and the University of Illinois at Chicago:
- Brady presented “Two Faces of Protein Kinases and Trafficking: Cancer and Neurodegeneration”
- Richard Miller, PhD, Alfred Newton Richards Professor of Pharmacology, presented “The Dual Lives of Inflammatory Cytokines”
- Ozdinler presented “ER Stress, UPS Defects: Different Colors of Same Shade”
- Richard Silverman, John Evans Professor of Chemistry, presented “Just say NO to Neurodegeneration Diseases and Melanoma”
- Jane Wu, MD, PhD, Dr. Charles L. Mix Research Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, presented “RNA Binding Proteins in ALS”
“Each year the meeting gets better because of what is learned from the year before, evidenced by today’s collaboration with the cancer community,” said Wendy Abrams, executive director of the Les Turner ALS Foundation. “ALS is a complex disorder that may have links to many other illnesses, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. This information is critical to scientists in the field as they learn that many of the same pathways are involved.”
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes the death of muscle-controlling nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord (motor neurons). It results in rapidly progressing paralysis and death, usually within three to five years of the onset of symptoms.
“The fascinating thing about this symposium is that people talked about molecules that play a role in a neurological problem and also have a connection to some kind of cancer,” said Silverman, who recently helped develop a family of compounds that could slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. “This may allow for us to take drugs already on the market and see if we can find another use for them.”
Just four weeks ago, Ozdinler contributed her own critical discovery, publishing in The Journal of Neuroscience findings from a preclinical ALS study.
“We developed tools to investigate what makes these cells become vulnerable in disease,” Ozdinler said. “This was not possible before.”
In addition, thanks to the symposium, she recently published a review article on the common biology between cancer and neurodegeneration.
Les Turner Partnership
With a partnership that began in 1979 through the establishment of the Les Turner ALS Research Laboratory, the foundation has been supporting scientists at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine for more than 30 years. In 1992, the lab moved to the Tarry Research Building under the direction of Teepu Siddique, MD, Les Turner ALS Foundation/Herbert C. Wenske Foundation Professor, and one year later he led an international team that identified genes responsible for inherited forms of the disease. In 2008, the foundation opened a second Les Turner ALS Research Lab under the direction of Ozdinler.
“With the current pace of discoveries, it’s not enough to only specialize in one disease,” Ozdinler said. “We have to learn the common biology and think more in terms of the reasons and mechanisms behind neurodegeneration. This is only possible with enhanced collaborations and scientific networks, the goal of the symposium.”