Party hats out, everyone! Stephen Hawking turned 70 years old yesterday, 49 years after being told he had fewer than four left to live.
The Cambridge professor suffers from a motor neuron disease related to Lou Gehrig’s disease that has gradually taken from him his ability to move, feed himself, and speak, except through a synthesizer that he operates using a cheek muscle (unfortunately, his control of that muscle is also fading). But despite these handicaps, he has survived to an incredible ripe old age—the average for an Englishman is currently 77.2—and has continued his work as a cosmologist and physicist throughout. How has he managed to live so much longer than expected? Read More
That may seem a strange question, akin to asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. But a new study proposes that some athletes diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease may in fact have a different fatal disease that is set off by concussions.
Researchers have previously investigated the link between athletes and this neurodegenerative disease, more technically known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A recent study examined what seemed to be a higher than usual incidence of Lou Gehrig’s disease among soccer players, and, of course, the disease bears the name of a New York Yankee who was famously undaunted by the hard knocks of his sport. Though it’s impossible to determine now whether Lou Gehrig suffered from ALS or a different condition (Gehrig was cremated), the study’s lead author speculates that Lou Gehrig’s disease might be a misnomer:
“Here he is, the face of his disease, and he may have had a different disease as a result of his athletic experience,” said Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the neuropathology laboratory for the New England Veterans Administration Medical Centers, and the lead neuropathologist on the study. [The New York Times]
In a striking achievement, researchers have taken ordinary skin cells from two elderly women suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and have reprogrammed those cells to act like stem cells, the versatile cells that can grow into almost any kind of specialized cell. Then the researchers programmed the cells to turn into motor neurons, the type of nerve cells that waste away and die as ALS progresses.
The new nerve cells won’t be used in any sort of experimental treatment; instead researchers will look for flaws in these nerve cells to study the disease’s mechanism. “Now we can make limitless supplies of the cells that die in this awful disease. This will allow us to study these neurons, and ALS, in a lab dish, and figure out what’s happening in the disease process,” said [study coauthor] Dr. Kevin Eggan [Reuters]. This is particularly useful for ALS because the nerve cells affected by the disease are in patients’ spinal cords, making it impossible for researchers to take cell samples for study.