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September 2, 2004

Center Recognized for Research, Clinical Care

UPMC’s Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) program has been designated as an MDA/ALS Center by the Muscular Dystrophy Association in recognition of its excellence in research and clinical care.

UPMC is one of only 33 centers in the country to receive the designation, and the second in Pennsylvania.

Better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a motor neuron disease first brought to national and international attention by the famed baseball player in 1939 when he abruptly retired from baseball after being diagnosed with ALS. Most commonly, the disease strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70, and as many as 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time.

Pitt’s ALS program is headed by David Lacomis, associate professor of neurology and pathology and chief of the Division of Neuromuscular Diseases of the Department of Neurology.

“This is genuine recognition of the kind of work we are doing here to fight this debilitating disease,” Lacomis said. “We are genuinely honored and humbled by MDA’s designation and are looking forward to continuing our work in this important area.”

Pittsburgh’s clinical services for ALS patients include multidisciplinary approach with two neurologists who specialize in ALS, a nurse practitioner/clinic coordinator, nutritionist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, social worker, specialist in internal medicine and palliative care, and medical equipment and speech communication assistive device consultants.

Also, Pittsburgh is part of the Northeastern ALS Consortium for ALS Clinical Trials. Currently, Lacomis and his team are completing a trial of Celebrex and expect to participate in a study of an antibiotic early next year.

In addition, a team of researchers under the direction of Robert Bowser, associate professor of pathology, is participating in an ALS biomarkers study with investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Although the cause of ALS is not completely understood, the last decade has brought a wealth of new scientific understanding about the disease that provides hope for the future. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that usually attacks both upper and lower motor neurons and causes degeneration throughout the brain and spinal cord. A common first symptom is a painless weakness in a hand, foot, arm or leg, which occurs in more than half of all cases. Other early symptoms include speech swallowing or walking difficulty.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 1

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