$1m Prize4life award for Dr. Seward Rutkove, Inventor of ALS Tracker

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a deadly neuromuscular ailment, the steady progress of which has always been hard to track. This has prevented the search for drugs that could slow or block the disease’s progress. But now Dr. Seward Rutkove, a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center developed a reliable way to quantify the small muscular changes that signal progressive deterioration. For this he won the $1 million Prize4Life Award, reportedly the largest ever for meeting a specific challenge in medical research.

Dr. Seward Rutkove MD , WInner of Prize4Life Award for ALS Discovery
Dr. Seward Rutkove MD

Melanie Leitner, chief scientific officer of Prize4Life, the nonprofit group that created the competition, said that Dr. Rutkove’s method could halve the cost of clinical trials to screen potential drugs for the disease. The method, however, does not provide solution to which part of the body to target the drugs, and it will not even help doctors better diagnose the disease. But this discovery compares to the way Magnetic Resonance Imaging has hastened the development of drugs for Multiple Sclerosis.

The 46 year old Dr. Rutkove has been treating patients with neuromuscular disease for 16 years. He says that he was inspired to become a doctor when he watched his grandfather have an epileptic seizure. Dr. Rutkove developed a hand-held device that was hooked up to electrodes on the patient’s skin, and by sending a painless electrical current into a given muscle, he was able to measure the voltage that results.

As ALS progresses, the motor neurons diminish, causing muscles to disintegrate. The deteriorating muscles behave differently from healthy ones, resisting the current more. Dr. Rutkove performed studies on both human and rats to show that these variations were closely connected with the progression of the disease and length of survival.

According to the National Institutes of Health each year doctors diagnose about 5,000 new cases of A.L.S. in the United States. The life expectancy is only three to five years for most after the symptoms appear. A few patients like the physicist Steven Hawkins (read about Steven Hawkins life with ALS) manage to live for decades.

The cost of clinical trials for ALS is very high which limit’s the drug companies to test for potential treatments. Avi Kremer, the 35-year-old founder of Prize4Life, who has the disease himself wrote, “One executive told us, ‘For the cost of one A.L.S. drug I can develop two multiple sclerosis drugs, so obviously I go with M.S.’ ” He was diagnosed with the disease in 2004 while a student at Harvard Business School and now cannot speak or type.

Dr. Rutkove is working on his invention and before he heard of the prize said his work is in progress and is supported by public financing. He added that the challenge focused him toward reducing the cost of clinical trials and accelerated his analysis.

If you know some who has ALS, then you may want to check out these clinical trials for investigation of new treatments for ALS

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