A Southern Research Scientist’s early-stage work on potential new therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is getting a push thanks to a grant from the Alabama Power Foundation.
The researcher, Rita Cowell, PhD, Fellow and Chair of the Neuroscience Department in Southern Research’s Drug Discovery division, studies compounds that in lab tests have prevented the neuronal loss that is a hallmark of ALS, a devasting condition characterized by muscle atrophy and paralysis.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, killing motor neurons in the body that control movement. Sometimes, it is called “Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Southern Research Initiatives
Southern Research is focusing on causes of neurological diseases and disorders, including ALS. They report that the condition affects at least 16,000 Americans at any given time. The average life expectancy for an ALS patient is two to five years from the time of diagnosis.
Only Two Drugs to Combat the Disease
Cowell reports that there are only two drugs approved by the FDA to combat the disease. These medicines can slow down the progression of the disease in some cases, and in others do nothing at all. She said, “There is a desperate need for new drugs for ALS.”
Cell Death Trigger
Southern Research Labs researchers have identified compounds that have real potential to counteract the cell death that represents a core driver of ALS.
Cowell and Southern Research will conduct a group of key tests of the compounds in a series of cell-based assays to gauge how the chemicals work against ALS. It is hoped that the data provides a pathway to government or commercial funding for tests in mouse models and eventually Phase I clinical trials.
Southern Research is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) research organization that conducts basic and applied research for commercial and non-commercial organizations across four divisions including:1) Drug Development 2) Drug Discovery 3) Energy & Environment & 4) Engineering.
It was founded in Birmingham, AL in 1941 by Thomas Martin as the Alabama Research Institute.
Its drug development division is the largest of the four organizations. Set up like a contract research organization (CRO), they provide commercial and government clients with nonclinical and clinical trial support services. They offer studies including both in vitro and in vivo testing of small molecule compounds, vaccines, biologics, and other test articles in therapeutic areas including infectious disease, CNS and cancer. Current service areas include: Bioanalytical Analysis, Anticancer Efficacy Services, Immunology, Infectious Disease, Pathology and Consulting.
Rita Cowell, PhD, Fellow and Chair of the Neuroscience Department in Southern Research’s Drug Discovery division