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Joe Beckman in his lab with colleagues

A homerun for treating Lou Gehrig’s disease

By David Stauth

News & Research Communications

Joe Beckman, distinguished biochemistry and biophysics professor

Distinguished biochemistry and biophysics professor Joe Beckman and his research team recently determined that a copper compound known for decades may treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Beckman collaborated with scientists from Australia and the United Kingdom on this study just published in the Journal of Neuroscience that showed oral intake of this compound significantly extended the lifespan and improved the locomotor function of transgenic mice that are genetically engineered to develop this debilitating and terminal disease.

No human therapy for ALS has ever been discovered that could extend lifespan beyond a few months. Linus Pauling Institute researchers say this approach has the potential to change that and may help treat Parkinson’s disease as well.

“We believe that with further improvements, and following necessary human clinical trials for safety and efficacy, this could provide a valuable new therapy for ALS and perhaps Parkinson’s disease,” said Joe Beckman, principal investigator and Ava Helen Pauling Chair at the Linus Pauling Institute.

ALS was first identified as a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disease in the late 1800s and gained international recognition in 1939 when it was diagnosed in American baseball legend Lou Gehrig. It’s known to be caused by motor neurons in the spinal cord deteriorating and dying, and has been traced to mutations in copper, zinc superoxide dismutase, or SOD1. Ordinarily, superoxide dismutase is an antioxidant whose proper function is essential to life.

Collaborators on this research include OSU, the University of Melbourne, University of Technology/Sydney, Deakin University, the Australian National University, and the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. The lead author on the new study is Blaine Roberts from the University of Melbourne, who received his doctorate from OSU studying under Beckman.

Funding has been provided by the Australian National Health and the Medical Research Council, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Linus Pauling Institute and other groups in Australia and Finland.

Watch the KEZI video featuring Joe Beckman's research on the copper compound that may be a way to treat ALS.