ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Amyotrophic translates to “no muscle nourishment.” It means that the muscles will “atrophy” or “waste away.” Lateral sclerosis refers to a certain area of the spinal cord that is affected, which degenerates and hardens. The motor neurons reach all the way from the brain to the bottom of the spinal column. They are responsible for the voluntary movement of the body as well as muscle control. When they degenerate, the brain is no longer able to initiate or control muscle movement. Therefore, with this type of voluntary muscle activity affected, people will often lose their ability to eat, speak, move, and even breathe.
ALS comes in two forms: Familial and sporadic. Sporadic is the most common (90 to 95% of cases) and can affect anyone, anywhere. The other 5 to 10% of cases are familial, which means that the condition is inherited from one or both parents. In familial cases, there is a 50% chance that every child born to that carrier parent will have the disease.
Studies have discovered that there are approximately 15 new cases of ALS diagnosed every day, making for over 5,600 cases per year. According to these studies, 60% of patients diagnosed with ALS are men, and 93% are Caucasian. The average age of an ALS-diagnosed patient is 55; however, this condition is nondiscriminatory and can affect those in their 20’s and 30’s as well. About half of those with ALS can live three to five years after the diagnosis, but quality of life will greatly decline. There is no known cure for ALS, so treatment is symptomatic according to the multiple disease that erupt as a result of ALS.
The ALS Society of Canada dedicates itself to helping people live with ALS, as well as fund research to look for a cure for this debilitating and terminal condition. Their primary goal is to fund the future of ALS research in Canada, using collaborative efforts with researchers to foster new ideas and build research.