University of Michigan neurologist wins award for ALS research

Eva Feldman will apply Sheila Essey grant toward workplace exposures

Andrea Lobo, PhD avatar

by Andrea Lobo, PhD |

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University of Michigan neurologist Eva Feldman was recently recognized with the 2024 Sheila Essey Award for her groundbreaking research on the biological processes that drive the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and its progression.

The award, announced at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 2024 Annual Meeting, recognizes a researcher whose work contributes to research into the causes of ALS, and its prevention and treatments. The $50,000 prize is granted by the AAN, the ALS Association, and the American Brain Foundation.

“Witnessing the profound impact of ALS on my patients and their families motivates me to pursue innovative research aimed at better understanding the underlying disease mechanisms, identifying modifiable risk factors, and developing novel therapeutic treatment strategies to improve patient outcomes,” said Feldman, MD, PhD, the director of the ALS Certified Treatment Center of Excellence at Michigan Medicine, in an ALS Association press release.

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Occupational, environmental exposure is focus of ALS research

Over her career, Feldman and her team have conducted clinical research into how specific occupational exposures are linked to ALS’s development and progression, and identified that exposure to persistent organic pollutants, such as pesticides or insecticides, toxins in the air, and heavy metals, are modifiable risk factors associated with ALS.

By pinpointing environmental risk factors, this research can help identify people at a higher risk of ALS and develop preventive measures, such as environmental regulations, public health interventions, or lifestyle changes, to minimize exposure.

“This recognition raises the critical idea of ALS prevention to the forefront, underscoring the urgency of our collective efforts in identifying risk factors of ALS, developing effective preventative measures and treatment strategies based on our understanding of these risk factors, and ultimately preventing ALS,” Feldman said.

Her discoveries also paved the way toward new ALS therapies, including the two first-ever human clinical trials involving implanting stem cells directly into a patient’s spinal cord.

The Phase 1 (NCT01348451) and Phase 2 (NCT01730716) trials found that transplanting human spinal cord-derived neural stem cells was generally safe and improved survival and function in ALS patients.

“Dr. Feldman has played a pivotal role in not only identifying environmental and other ALS risk factors, but also helping to translate them into potential prevention strategies that can be used in the clinic and elsewhere. We are proud to be able to honor her contributions, commitment, and leadership with this year’s Sheila Essey Award,” said Kuldip Dave, PhD, senior vice president of research at the ALS Association.

The Sheila Essey Award was established in 1996 in honor of Sheila Essey, who died in 2004 after a 10-year battle with ALS. It’s made possible through the generosity of the Essey Family Fund.

Feldman will apply the prize toward more research into ALS risk factors.

“The money will be invested directly into our new prospective cohort of 4,000 heathy persons in production occupations to identify the earliest signs and symptoms of ALS and the corresponding risk factors” Feldman said. “It will make a major difference, and I am very grateful to the ALS Association and the Essey family,” she added.

Past award winners have used their funds to either continue their research or support promising young scientists on their research teams.