Your Health: ALS research at UAB

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - New discoveries are being made in ALS research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dennis Sweet was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS - Lou Gehrig's - disease in December of 2010.  For nine years prior he lived with Primary lateral Sclerosis or PLS.

"I used to take walks with my wife and I started to notice my left leg flopping and we had no idea what it was, and I noticed my left hand getting weaker," said Sweet.

A doctor told Sweet the PLS was turning into ALS. The disease causes muscle cells that control movement to fail, including those that help you breath.

Patients become paralyzed, and die of respiratory compromise but Sweet found one person who's had the disease for decades.

Michelle Savage is the Development Director at the Alabama Chapter of the ALS Association in Huntsville.  She said once the patients are diagnosed they typically live two to five years.

While ALS is a fatal disease with no cure there is hope on the horizon.

"We were excited about the research that just came out from UAB. There is a protein that, they first found in worms, but that same protein is in most living beings including us humans. When that protein malfunctions or when something goes wrong with that process, that's when the ALS can happen," said Savage.

Researchers say specific proteins have been found in human nerve cells at the mitochondrial level. In the meantime, ALS patients depend on clinics that specialize in their ailment.

The only ALS clinic in North Alabama is located in Huntsville at Crestwood Medical Center.

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