Developments to Watch
THEY'VE FOUND THE GENE THAT CAUSES LOU GEHRIG'S DISEASE
A myotrophic lateral sclerosis cut down slugger Lou Gehrig and has largely deprived physicist Stephen W. Hawking of the ability to control his body. Invariably fatal, the affliction gradually kills motor neurons, the nerve cells that control muscles. About 10% of ALS cases are inherited. Now, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and other labs report in the Mar. 4 issue of Nature that they've found a faulty gene that causes the inherited form of ALS.
The culprit is the gene that produces an enzyme known as superoxide dismutase. Ordinarily, this enzyme helps prevent damage by so-called oxygen free radicals--toxic chemicals produced as a byproduct of normal metabolism in the body. The scientists haven't yet figured out exactly how the enzyme is faulty in ALS victims, but they do suggest that excessive amounts of free radicals may be killing the nerve cells. If so, drugs that fight the free radicals could be the first effective treatments for the disease. EDITED BY WILLIAM D. MARBACH