The Les Turner ALS Foundation has made a $10 million commitment to create the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center at Northwestern Medicine to accelerate research and advance patient care in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that often strikes people in the prime of their lives.
The Center will bring together the Les Turner ALS Research Laboratories, the Les Turner/Lois Insolia ALS Center, the ALS tissue bank and other ALS research, clinical and education activities at Northwestern under one umbrella.
“Northwestern scientists have made important advances in ALS research, and the foundation’s generosity in the creation of the new Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center will help generate even more significant discoveries related to this yet incurable disease,” said Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro. “The ice bucket challenge has been a wonderful way to raise awareness regarding ALS. Now, this generous gift will help Northwestern achieve its goal of making the world a better place though biomedical discoveries.”
“Northwestern scientists are leaders in ALS research, and this important commitment from the Les Turner ALS Foundation to create a new Center will help advance our research discoveries in support of people with this devastating neurodegenerative disease,” said Eric Neilson, MD, vice president for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“We are proud to deepen our longstanding partnership with Northwestern and believe that this commitment will help enhance the exceptional care provided to people with ALS and also further scientists’ understanding of this complex disease,” said Ken Hoffman, president, Les Turner ALS Foundation.
“The advantage of having all the research and clinical activities joined as part of the Center is to enhance collaborations between researchers and clinicians and, therefore, facilitate the development of new therapies for ALS,” said Dimitri Krainc, MD, chair of the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology at Northwestern Medicine and the Aaron Montgomery Ward Professor at Feinberg.
The Foundation, a partner with Northwestern for 35 years, has provided support that has led to significant advances from the laboratories of Teepu Siddique, MD, the Les Turner ALS Foundation/Herbert C. Wenske Foundation Professor, and P. Hande Ozdinler, PhD, assistant professor of Neurology, both at Feinberg.
Dr. Siddique’s lab has made several important discoveries in the field of ALS over the years, including the identification of genetic causes of ALS. His discoveries provide potential targets for drug therapy and show that all types of ALS are tributaries, pouring into a common river of cellular incompetence.
Ozdinler’s lab for the first time isolated the motor neurons in the brain that die in ALS and gave them fluorescent tags so that they can be tracked and studied. This small group of elusive neurons in the brain’s cortex plays a big role in ALS. With the fluorescent tags, scientists will be able to track what goes wrong to cause the cells’ deaths and be able to search for effective treatments.
A third ALS research laboratory is being launched at Northwestern under the leadership of Evangelos Kiskinis, who has been recruited from Harvard and is joining the Davee Neurology Department in January.
ALS affects an estimated 350,000 people worldwide, with the average survival for someone affected by ALS being three to five years. In this progressive, neuromuscular disorder, the degeneration of nerves leads to muscle weakness and impaired speaking, swallowing and breathing, eventually causing paralysis and death.
The Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center will be a part of the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology and will operate under the Institute for Translational Neuroscience at Northwestern Medicine.
This gift comes at a pivotal time for Northwestern. On March 14, the University announced its $3.75 billion fundraising campaign, We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, to address society’s critical challenges and prepare global leaders. The University-wide, multi-year effort will support initiatives across Northwestern. The Campaign for Northwestern Medicine represents $1.75 billion toward the University’s goal.