SPOKANE, Wash. – Researchers at Washington State University's College of Pharmacy Lab in Spokane have been experimenting with ways to battle ALS – a terminal degenerative disease for which there is currently no cure – and have come up with a unique discovery.
Dr. Travis Denton of WSU Spokane said it is amazing to think of what they are attempting to accomplish here in Spokane.
“We could potentially be making the drug to give to people with ALS to stop their complications altogether,” he said.
The discovery by Denton's team could help with other diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and more.
“How excited should we be? Over the moon ecstatic,” Dr. Denton said.
“I can’t wait to go to work because I know I get to come in here and we’re potentially going to make a drug that can save so many people’s lives.”
The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke sees something promising here, too. They have awarded Denton a $446,000 grant to boost his research.
The money is being used to make serious headway against these terrible diseases.
“It’s kind of like a flower or a fork in a road where Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and ALS... they’re completely different diseases, but as it turns out they really do intersect at a pathway,” Dr. Denton said, “and we found that intersection, is what we hope.”
The diseases have something in common called “autophagic dysfunction.”
Dr. Denton said if you don’t have autophagy, it's like the housekeeper in your brain just stopped reporting to work.
With no housekeeper, the brain cells get “dirty." If they don’t get the care they need the whole system degenerates.
“So if we can turn that autophagy back on or hire more housekeepers to go in and clean up, not only will be clean again, it can actually be better,” he said.
Dr. Kenneth Hensley at the University of Toledo is collaborating with Dr. Denton and said he identified something capable of hiring those housekeepers.
Dr. Hensley found a molecule that works as a ‘wonder drug’ he said. They have given that molecule to a mouse with ALS and watched it reverse the disease.
“It is absolutely amazing,” Dr. Denton said.
Here is the hurdle – they do not yet know how to get that drug where it needs to go in humans, the brain.
The body protects the brain above all else, so it is hard to get a drug into the brain that the body will not attack like an invader.
So they have to mask it somehow, kind of like a Trojan Horse disguised to get past the brain’s gate.
“So it’s inside now we use some of the brain’s own enzymes to unmask it, so we open up the door to the horse and let the soldiers out and it attacks,” Dr. Denton said. "It works well.”
It is encouraging news in a string of diseases that have delivered so much darkness.
“I’m very, very confident in the science and I know that we will have a drug one day that will help people with ALS,” he said.
“I’m extremely confident in that fact.”