ALS Researcher Winner of Inaugural Target ALS Luker Courage Award

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by Lindsey Shapiro, PhD |

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Merit E. Cudkowicz, MD,  is the winner of the inaugural Target ALS Rebecca Luker Courage Award in recognition of her work and efforts to help  amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients and the ALS community.

Cudkowicz is the chief of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, and the director of the Sean M. Healey and AMG Center for ALS at Mass General. Under her guidance, the center opened the Healey ALS Platform Trial to test simultaneously multiple potential treatments.

Cudkowicz has “worked to ensure that all people with ALS have access to care, opportunities to participate in clinical trials, and are surrounded by hope,” a press release quotes her colleagues as saying.

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The award is being presented by Target ALS and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America (MTPA), its sponsor, at the Target ALS Annual Meeting running through May 5 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“We are thrilled to announce Merit E. Cudkowicz as the first recipient of the Rebecca Luker Courage Award,” said Atsushi Fujimoto, president of MTPA, which markets Radicava (edaravone), an approved ALS treatment.

“As an organization that’s committed to the advancement of ALS research and treatment, we are encouraged and inspired by those who strive to make a difference in the lives of those affected by ALS every day. Together, we’re battling on all fronts to fight ALS,” Fujimoto added.

The Rebecca Luker Courage Award was created to honor the Broadway actress and singer Rebecca Luker, who died from complications of ALS in December 2020. Diagnosed the previous year, Luker was a staunch advocate for ALS clinical trials and treatment discovery.

Broadway performers who included Luker’s husband, Danny Burstein, as well as ALS researchers and advocates made up the award’s selection committee. Nominees were judged based on criteria that included collaboration, innovation, impact, and reach in the ALS community.

Target ALS and MTPA also announced that Joumana Baroody was named the winner of this year’s “Unsung Hero” award. Baroody is the director of care services at the greater Chicago chapter of the ALS Association, overseeing care for ALS patients at multiple clinics in the Chicago area.

Awards of recognition were given to Timothy Miller, MD, PhD, a researcher and neurology professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; Sandy Morris, an ALS patient who lives by the slogan “from heartbreak to action”; and Mark Calmes, who honors the wife he lost to ALS in 2017 by giving to others.

Calmes founded the Jane Calmes ALS Scholarship Fund to support students whose families are affected by ALS.  Philanthropy is an “investment of heart and soul into advocacy for people and causes that truly make a difference,” he has said.

“There are so many individuals making a meaningful difference in the fight against ALS, it’s an honor to recognize some of them with this inaugural award,” said Manish Raisinghani, MD, PhD, president and CEO of Target ALS. “It was so gratifying for our team to recognize and celebrate our outstanding colleagues. We thank MTPA for sponsoring this award.”