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Home > Scientists Take Promising First Step in Accelerating ALS Diagnosis

Scientists Take Promising First Step in Accelerating ALS Diagnosis

by | Apr 14, 2016

The Neurological Clinical Research Institute has recently made significant strides in working toward diagnosing ALS earlier and measuring the progression of the disease. The NCRI imaging team conducted its first successful PET imaging scan of a person living with ALS to measure inflammation in the brain, which is a promising first step in the TRACK ALS imaging biomarker study.

Dr. Nazem Atassi and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital developed a tracer that binds to support cells of the nervous system in the brain. The tracer serves as a marker of inflammation and tracks changes in the cells of the nervous system. The PET imaging scans measure inflammation in the central nervous system, where cells move to the already damaged area of the brain and worsen damage by further harming neurons.

The successful development of this biomarker would help doctors diagnose ALS earlier, and serve as a tool to measure the progression of the disease.

The successful scan is the initial step in a study that aims to more clearly identify the role of inflammation in people living with ALS. “This is an exciting milestone towards the goal of developing the imaging approach as a readout for inflammation, a critical tool to expedite clinical trials,” said Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., M.B.A. and Chief Scientist of the ALS Association. The study will enroll 50 ALS patients and 50 healthy volunteers.

According to Dr. Atassi, the Primary Investigator of this study, “Inflammation is an important target for ALS drug development, and we believe imaging inflammation may allow us to design and conduct efficient ALS clinical trials and will accelerate the pace of ALS drug discovery.”

The ALS Association and The ALS Finding a Cure Foundation currently fund the research at MGH, Houston Methodist Hospital and GE Healthcare, which is working to develop biomarkers that would help with the diagnosis of ALS and measuring its’ progression.

This accomplishment is part of the TRACK ALS project, which is a large multicenter, comprehensive biomarker study that includes imaging, whole genome sequencing, biofluid inflammatory biomarkers and induced pluripotent stem cell generation. The overall goal of the study is to develop new MRI and PET imaging markers of ALS that will accelerate ALS diagnostic timelines and the pace of ALS drug development. The TRACK ALS project is funded through the ALS ACT initiative. Learn more about this study at

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