Happy Birthday, Stephen Hawking: Looking Back on the 76-Year-Old’s Long Life With ALS

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This week, Stephen Hawking turned 76. While 76 doesn’t seem all that impressive with many living past 100 in this day and age — for Hawking, it’s simply remarkable.

Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) when he wast just 21 years old. At the time of his diagnosis, doctors gave him just two years to live. Now, more than 50 years later, researchers all over the world are trying to figure out just how Hawking’s defied all odds.

MORE: Explaining the progression of ALS

Unfortunately, at this point, nobody can figure it out. According to the ALS Association, half of those with ALS live at least three years after diagnosis, 25 percent at least five years, and up to 10 percent 10 years or more. Only five percent of patients live more than 20 years after diagnosis. Most ALS patients eventually succumb to the disease due to respiratory failure.

The biggest challenge with studying ALS is that the disease affects each patient differently. According to Dr. Anthony Geraci, director of the Neuromuscular Center at Northwell Health’s Neuroscience Institute, scientists have identified more than 20 different genes involved in the development and progression of ALS. Survival time can be affected by genetic differences between patients.

According to other studies, age of diagnosis also affects a patient’s survival time. Researchers believe that the younger the patient is at time of diagnosis, the better their prognosis. Those who develop it before 40 (like Hawking) are likely to live longer.

However, despite the research, nobody’s been able to pin down exactly how Hawking’s been able to live such a long and full life while suffering from ALS.

MORE: Prof. Stephen Hawking receives “Beacon Of Courage And Dedication Award” from Society for Brain Mapping & Therapeutics

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