New ALS Center

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Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital has opened a new center expected to bring Arizona to the forefront of research and treatment for ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dr. Shafeeq Ladha, clinical director of The Gregory W. Fulton ALS and Neuromuscular Disorders Center at Barrow, will discuss the new center.

Ted Simons: Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph hospital has opened a new facility that will focus on the research and treatment of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Here to tell us more is Dr. Shafeeq Ladha, clinical director of the Gregory W. Fulton ALS and Neuromuscular Disorders Center at Barrows. Good to see you here. Thanks so much for joining us.

Shafeeq Ladha: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: Define ALS. What are we talking about here?

Shafeeq Ladha: ALS is commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a neurodegenerative disorder, and it's a disease of the nerve cells that control your muscles. So you have a set of nerve cells which control hand muscles, leg muscles, but also breathing and swallowing muscles. In this disease those muscles start to die, and over time people become weaker, eventually they can't swallow and can't breathe. That's why it's a fatal disease.

Ted Simons: No known cause, no known cure?

Shafeeq Ladha: Correct. We know a lot about it, but we don't really know what kicks off the death of the motor neurons.

Ted Simons: What do we know about the disease and how will this new center, a couple weeks old, how does the new center fight disease?

Shafeeq Ladha: What we know about the disease is that there's multiple factors which contribute to motor neuron death. This ranges from inflammation, to oxidation, to genetics, and some environmental factors as well. Our center really -- We think going to be groundbreaking because it's going to combine research and clinical care in a very streamlined way that really isn't Donnie where else.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, I read about this being an integrative approach, and this was a new deal. Really? I would seem integration would be a good idea as far as clinical work, research, patient work, the whole nine yards.

Shafeeq Ladha: Yeah --

Ted Simons: It doesn't happen --

Shafeeq Ladha: It makes sense, but it hasn't been done very often. Traditionally lab scientist and clinical scientists are sort of two separate silos that sort of stay away from each other. We want to turn this into a rapidly productive relationship that brings scientific discoveries directly to the clinic.

Ted Simons: Give us an example, a patient comes to the clinic and is showing early signs, and has been diagnosed with early ALS. Where do we go from there?

Shafeeq Ladha: Well, first of all, confirming the diagnosis is not easy. There is no test for the disease right now. One of the things that we're pioneering at our center is a diagnostic test for the disease. Earlier diagnosis means earlier entry into clinical research studies, or trials, and that's probably the best way that we're going to find treatment to slow this disease down. So that's just one example of what we're doing.

Ted Simons: How about improving the quality of life? A factor as well?

Shafeeq Ladha: Yeah. Right now that's all we have. Clinical care using management for mobility, respiratory management, all of those things really, there's good techniques to take care of those aspects of the disease, and maximize quality of life. And they just have to be implemented.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, what will this center do that other centers, other research organizations and clinical groups either aren't doing or haven't started the doing?

Shafeeq Ladha: Well, one thing we're going to do is try and make the center a one-stop shop for all things ALS. So there will be resources in educational materials, there will be therapists who are on site all day every day, who know about the disease. If you go to a physical therapist who is used to shoulder problems or knee problems, they don't know about ALS. So diagnostic testing, that will be done right in the clinic. Infusion treatments which will be a big part of clinical trials in the future will all be right there. So putting that all in one space is really I think important for patients.

Ted Simons: It is important because it also would help bring new drugs to the forefront and get them out there quicker?

Shafeeq Ladha: Yeah. That is -- I think that's the responsibility of the relationship between the science side and the clinical side. So Dr. Bowser, a nationally known ALS scientist, he and I are constantly talking, working on ways we can get discoveries in his lab into drug trials in the clinic.

Ted Simons: What about other diseases, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, these sorts of things, will the center touch on those?

Shafeeq Ladha: Yeah. In fact, we'll do a lot of that. ALS is not so common that I think you can see patients all day long every day of the week with ALS, so some of the other neuromuscular disorders are also in the realm of diseases we're going to treat.

Ted Simons: Why don't we know more about these diseases?

Shafeeq Ladha: Well, I think we just haven't had the tools over the years. ALS specifically, we really haven't had kind of the understanding of what makes these cells tick. What is the cascade of processes that damage the cells? And as we have better technological advances to look at those, we know more and more about it.

Ted Simons: I know this is personal to the donors Ira and Mary Lou Fulton donated close to $300 million, personal to them because of Gregory Fulton. Correct?

Shafeeq Ladha: Yeah. Gregory was their son; he was a patient of mine who passed away in 2011. And I think Ira realized that we don't do a great job at coordinating care for this disease. It requires a lot of resources that are typically fragmented throughout the community. So you go over there for physical therapy, and here for this, and there for that. And he agreed with me that we need to do a better job.

Ted Simons: And the center has already opened its doors, correct?

Shafeeq Ladha: Correct. We opened earlier this month.

Ted Simons: Are things happening already? Are you seeing change already?

Shafeeq Ladha: Yeah. We're seeing lots of patients, we're already in the midst of several studies that we're participating in. So it's -- we're active and ready to go.

Ted Simons: For those wondering exactly where the center is located, it's at Barrows, correct?

Shafeeq Ladha: Barrows and St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center around Central and Thomas.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on the new center, and good luck. We're definitely rooting for you.

Shafeeq Ladha: Thank you very much.

Dr. Shafeeq Ladha:Clinical Director, The Gregory W. Fulton ALS and Neuromuscular Disorders Center at Barrow Neurological Institute;

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