€1 Million Contest Seeks to Improve Functionality in ALS

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by Mary Chapman |

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With a €1 million (about $1.1 million) prize being offered, researchers are invited to join a challenge that seeks to give people with motor neuron diseases (MND) – including those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – improved independence and a more normal lifestyle.

The Cullen Education and Research Fund (CERF) Prize promotes the study of muscle atrophy and loss of function associated with the neurodegenerative disorder. The deadline for registering an intent to compete is Friday (Oct. 16).

A panel of patients, caregivers, and clinician scientists will evaluate entrants’ ability to achieve sustained improvement in patient strength, function, and muscle maintenance while, ideally, extending life expectancy. The contest is being directed by Merit Cudkowicz, MD, director of the Sean M. Healey & AMG Center for ALS at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Ammar Al-Chalabi, PhD, professor of neurology and complex disease genetics, King’s College London.

“The judging panel will consider any solution that gives an MND/ALS patient independence and allows them to breathe, walk, talk, lift a coffee, drive a car, and otherwise operate independently,” CERF said in its announcement.

The prize is expected to spark development of new approaches to preserving or improving MND/ALS function. Over time, MND/ALS causes motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord to shrink and die. Consequently, the brain is unable to control muscle movement, which leads to smaller and weaker muscles. At length, patients lose the ability to perform everyday tasks.

The contest’s goal is to find an enduring way to improve muscle strength through approaches that halt muscle wasting indefinitely and restore function. Such approaches, which can be biologic, mechanical, electrical, or chemical in nature, are preferred to be long lasting, and hopefully prolong life. There are no limitations on means or ideas.

Go here for the application, which must include a brief proposal outline. After completion, applicants will be asked to submit a more detailed project proposal by Dec. 31. The contest submission must be in writing, and can include visuals such as a video or slideshow. By the time applicants have submitted a full proposal, they are expected to have begun project testing, where possible.

Entrants with the most promising projects will be invited to present their work to the judging panel early next year. If no project sufficiently meets the prize challenge, no prize will be awarded.

For more information about the contest, write to [email protected]

The London-based CERF supports and encourages research aimed at improving MND/ALS patients’ lives, and finding a cure.