(IVANHOE NEWSWIRE) - A recent study that suggests that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, is due to "repetitive head trauma experienced in collision sports" lacks scientific epidemiological evidence to support the claim. In a review of the 12-patient study, several experts specializing in motor neuron diseases challenge the findings as entirely pathological and without clinical merit.
Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS, is a progressive neurological disease that attacks nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and spinal cord which control voluntary muscles. The upper and lower motor neurons degenerate and the muscles continually weaken and waste away, eventually causing paralysis. Other symptoms include difficulty breathing, issues with swallowing (gagging ad choking), and speech problems. According to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke roughly 20,000 to 30,000 Americans have ALS, and 5,000 patients are diagnosed annually with the disease.
In the editorial, the authors cite two media reports—"Brain Trauma Can Mimic Lou Gehrig's Disease" in the New York Times and "Maybe Lou Gehrig Didn't Die of Lou Gehrig's Disease" in Time magazine—as lacking in scientific validation. These reports have led to numerous inquiries from ALS patients who are seeking answers from their physicians.
"Media coverage generated by the McKee et al. study has caused much concern for our ALS patients who now believe they may be misdiagnosed," Dr. Stanley H. Appel, Chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, and one of the foremost experts on Lou Gehrig's disease, was quoted as saying. "We want to make it clear to physicians and their ALS patients that reports of Lou Gehrig succumbing to anything but the disease which bears his name are inaccurate."
The study in question reported pathological changes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 12 patients, 3 of whom displayed both the TAR DNA-binding protein (TDP-43) and tau in their spinal cords. The build-up of toxic proteins contributes to a number of neurodegenerative diseases, with TDP-43 found in most ALS cases and tau more commonly associated with dementia. Based on the findings of both proteins in the 3 subjects, the study authors concluded that head trauma and CTE led to an "ALS-like" condition, which one author during media interviews, suggested naming chronic traumatic encephalomyopathy (CTEM).
"There is no clinical or pathological evidence of muscle disease reported in the study that would support a diagnosis of CTEM," Valerie Cwik, M.D., Executive Vice President and Medical Director for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and co-author of the editorial, was quoted as saying. "More likely their 3 patients with CTE and ALS had the two distinct diseases."