$2.88M Awarded to Research on How ALS Affects Organs Beyond the Central Nervous System

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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ALS Association grant

Scientist Jingsong Zhou, PhD, has received a $2.88-million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) affects multiple organs beyond the central nervous system (CNS).

“We are ultimately working to find some potential therapeutic means to treat the disease with a new understanding,” Zhou, a professor of kinesiology at The University of Texas at Arlington, said in a press release.

The majority of current ALS research is focused on the mechanisms of neurodegeneration, especially in the brain and spinal cord, because the neuromuscular symptoms are so prominent in ALS.

Zhou and her team explore how ALS affects the entire body (systemically) and which factors contribute to disease progression that go beyond the nervous system.

“Twelve years ago, my lab made a discovery in the muscle defects of ALS, and we have been looking closely at the disease ever since,” Zhou said.

“In the beginning, we believed the muscle atrophy [that] ALS causes was secondary to the death of the neurons in the spinal cord, but we have evidence that indicates the muscle is not only a victim of the disease, rather it actively contributes to it. This is a systemic disorder affecting the whole body,” she said.

The NIH grant will allow the researchers to continue their study on how multiple organs, such as the muscle, bone, and gut are affected by ALS. Their main focus is a cellular compartment — called mitochondria — the cells’ power plants. The researchers hope to find new ways to improve the function of mitochondria, which are defective in ALS.

“Once we understand why the cells are damaged, we can test potential compounds or therapies,” Zhou added.

“Dr. Zhou’s research explores new territories in an effort to bring relief to ALS patients and their families,” said Paul Fadel, associate dean for research at the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at The University of Texas at Arlington.

Zhou’s work on defective mitochondria in ALS has also contributed to the understanding of other diseases. In February 2019, her team received a $610,000 grant from the NIH to explore how heart muscle cells affect cardiovascular disease.

“When you look at cells through a microscope, it’s the same as looking through a telescope at the universe — the discoveries are infinite,” Zhou said. “It’s extremely important to take our time to explore and understand as many elements of the disease as possible so we can fight it efficiently.”