Michigan football fans get lesson in ALS research

Michigan football fans got a primer on ALS research Friday when Dr. Eva Feldman joined the Maize and Blue Family Cookout event hosted by radio station WTKA-AM on Friday, October 10.

Dr. Eva Feldman, right, joins WTKA radio hosts Ira Weintraub, left, and Sam Webb, center, during the Maize and Blue Family Cookout on Oct. 10 in Ypsilanti.

Dr. Eva Feldman, right, joins WTKA radio hosts Ira Weintraub, left, and Sam Webb, center, during the Maize and Blue Family Cookout on Oct. 10 in Ypsilanti.

Dr. Feldman, director of the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery and a world-renowned researcher on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, joined radio hosts Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub to discuss ALS research efforts at the University of Michigan.

Webb and Weintraub participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge this summer and held the Maize and Blue Family Cookout in support of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive ALS Clinic.

“ALS is especially prevalent among members of the military and athletes, and it strikes healthy people in the prime of their lives,” Dr. Feldman said. “So I thought it was important to share our story of hope through research with the University of Michigan football family.”

Dr. Feldman noted during the broadcast that the Ice Bucket Challenge that took place this summer has raised more than $120 million for ALS research, a six-fold increase over previous ALS funding efforts.

The radio show was broadcast live from Cueter Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Ypsilanti and included former University of Michigan football players Jamie Morris, Chris Howard, Marcus Ray and Gerald White.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to reach a new audience,” Dr. Feldman said. “Sam and Ira were gracious hosts and I’m delighted that they’ve taken an interest in ALS research at the University of Michigan. Go Blue!”

Listen to podcast here:

Second phase of ALS stem-cell therapy trial completed

A patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, received 16 million stem cells directly to the spinal cord this month in the final leg of the FDA-approved Phase II trial of this novel therapy.

That brings to 30 the number of ALS patients receiving the groundbreaking stem cell implantations over the course of Phases I and II of the trial, which was designed by University of Michigan neurologist Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D.

The aim of the trial is to show that stem cells can safely be delivered to the spinal cords of patients with neurodegenerative diseases, and it is hoped that the presence of the neural stem cells will slow the progression of ALS symptoms.

The Phase II trial is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and funded by Neuralstem, Inc., the Maryland-based company whose stem-cell product the trial is testing. It seeks to study any effect that injected stem cells might have on motor neurons — muscle-controlling nerve cells that die in ALS patients, eventually robbing them of the ability to walk, speak and breathe.

Feldman, the Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology in the U-M Medical School and director of the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery, is the principal investigator for the trial. Feldman serves as an unpaid consultant to the company, and has led the analysis of results from the Phase I trial, which concluded in 2012.  Researchers have reported possible signs that in one subgroup of participants, ALS progression may have been interrupted.

Feldman said she now will begin evaluating patient data from Phase II and preparing the application for a wider Phase IIb trial of the landmark therapy.

“We look forward to seeing what the data tell us about the safety and efficacy of this approach,” said Feldman.  The Phase II trial began in September 2012 with the first surgery taking place at the University of Michigan Health System.  Parag Patil, M.D., Ph.D., and a member of the U-M Medical School faculty, performed the surgeries at U-M.  Other trial sites include Emory University in Atlanta and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The first 12 patients in the Phase 2 trial received doses of stem cells ranging from five injections of 200,000 cells per injections to 20 injections of 400,000 cells each, all to the cervical region of the spine where the nerves that control breathing reside.  The final three patients underwent two separate surgeries each, with cells being implanted to both the cervical and lumbar (lower) areas of the spinal cord.  Those patients received a total of 40 injections of 400,000 cells per injection for a total of 16 million cells.

For more information on ALS treatment and research at the U-M Health System, visit http://umhealth.me/UM-ALS.

Coleman event raises $125K for ALS research

A fundraising event held May 29 in honor of Tom Coleman raised more than $125,000 to support the Program for Neurology Research & Discovery’s stem-cell research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other neural degenerative diseases.

UL9A1085The event, held at the Back Bay Bistro in Newport Beach, was originally planned for 150 people. But through word-of-mouth it grew to include more than 250 friends and associates of Mr. Coleman, 47, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2013.

The fundraising event, which included a keynote speech by Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., was organized by Tom’s wife Ronnette Coleman, his business partner and co-founder of LC Automotive, Bill Lawrence, both of Costa Mesa, Calif., Mr. Coleman’s sister, Sue Gottschalk of Canton, Mich., and other friends.

“I am deeply touched by the wide support of our industry for Tom, his family and their desire to contribute to the research efforts of Dr. Feldman and the University of Michigan,” Mr. Lawrence said. “While Tom, his family and friends had worked tirelessly on planning this event, all those involved were taken back by not only the number of attendees, but by their generosity.”

Mr. Coleman is one of 30 patients who have received stem-cell injections in a first-of-its-kind clinical trial that has now reached Phase 2. In Phase 1 of the trial, the spinal cords of 15 patients including Mr. Coleman were injected with stem cells to determine whether the procedure was safe for humans. Phase 2 will add an additional 18 patients, each receiving up to 16 million stem cells — to determine the procedure’s efficacy – how well it works.

“It took a big effort from family and friends to pull this event together,” said Tom Coleman. “But our fundraising success would not have been possible without the strong support of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, PPG, LKQ Corp, The Platinum Group, Single Source, Caliber Collision Centers, CCC and many anonymous individual donors. I sincerely thank each of you for your participation and contribution.”

Tom and Ronnette Coleman have acknowledged that the research being done on ALS will not benefit their family directly, but they are committed to helping researchers find a cure for ALS and other neural degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“I am so grateful to the Colemans and their friends and family who have supported our research at the University of Michigan,” Dr. Feldman said. “For the Colemans this is a profoundly selfless gesture that will hopefully benefit future generations who suffer from ALS and other horrific neurological disorders. The outpouring of support for Tom and Ronnette by their community of friends and associates is truly touching. It is clear that Tom’s impact has been far-reaching.

“It is humbling to see, and it inspires each and every one of us in the lab to never stop searching for a cure.”

PNR&D study links agricultural chemicals to ALS

A study by University of Michigan researchers has shown a link between agricultural chemicals and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a finding that has attracted the federal Centers for Disease Control to fund the study’s expansion.

The association of pesticides and fertilizer exposure to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, was found in the first 66 ALS patients in the interim analysis of a larger study that will ultimately pair more than 400 ALS patients with an equal number of unafflicted, age-matched participants. The study, which relies on numerous tissue samples from participants, is being conducted by the University of Michigan’s Program for Neurology Research & Discovery, headed by neurologist Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D.

The results of the first cohort were reported in the paper titled “Environmental Risk Factors and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): A Case-control Study of ALS in Michigan.” It was published June 30 in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal. The interim analysis was based on 66 pairs of age-matched ALS patients and unafflicted controls, and for the first time showed a link between agricultural chemicals and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“It is far too early to draw conclusions, but the fact that we’ve made this correlation between common agricultural chemicals and ALS for the first time ever is extremely promising,” said Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s corresponding author. “We need to gather more data, and if these findings hold up we may find a path toward better understanding this mysterious and incurable disease.”

Michigan is known to have “clusters” where the prevalence of ALS is higher than is typically found elsewhere, and researchers are trying to understand why certain people contract ALS while others don’t. The study was designed to compare exposure to a number of chemicals over various time frames between ALS patients and controls. Subjects supplied urine samples so researchers could get a snapshot of chemical exposures in the immediate time frame, and blood samples to determine exposures over 10- and 30-year periods. The study was novel in its use of different exposure periods.

Smoking, occupational exposures to industrial metals, dust and gas, radiation and physical activity were not associated with ALS in the interim analysis. The study is expected to continue into 2015. To participate in the study, contact study coordinator Blake Swihart, at (734) 763-8284 or blakeswi@med.umich.edu.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is characterized by the progressive deterioration of large motor neurons that control muscle function. Patients first develop limb weakness, followed by difficulty speaking and swallowing. As the disease progresses, it retards the patient’s ability to breathe. ALS patients typically die within three years of diagnosis. At any given time, about 50,000 people are afflicted with ALS worldwide. Its causes are unknown and there is no cure.

Funding support for the ALS study was provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the National Institutes of Health, the University of Michigan MCubed funding program, and the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute.

Lab receives matching gifts for Alzheimer’s research

Groundbreaking research on a devastating neurological disorder – Alzheimer’s disease – will reach the fast track in the Program for Neurology Research & Development this year, thanks to matching $250,000 gifts from the Sinai Medical Staff Foundation and the Richard & Jane Manoogian Foundation.

“I cannot overstate the importance of generous gifts like these in advancing the cause of medical science,” said PNR&D Director Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D. “Often times the NIH shies away from funding high-risk research despite its potential to yield high rewards. It is crucial that private philanthropy get the ball rolling on this important work, and that is exactly what these two forward-looking foundations have accomplished.”

The gifts, which will be distributed over five years, will support stem-cell work under way in the Program for Neurology Research & Development. Dr. Feldman is well into Phase 2 of a clinical trial that is testing the effectiveness of stem cells in ALS patients. Phase 1 results were published in March and showed that humans tolerated the stem cell injections well. The PNR&D has already begun adapting its ALS stem cell work to learning more about Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans, two-thirds of whom are women, and the emotional toll it exacts on family members and loved ones is immeasurable. The direct cost of caring for sufferers of Alzheimer’s will total $214 billion in 2014, and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 15.5 million family members and friends provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to dementia patients – care valued at an additional $220 billion.

“We have made tremendous progress in stem-cell research, particularly in the area of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Dr. Feldman said. “Because of what we’ve learned from our human clinical trial for ALS, we are now able to translate those techniques and direct our attention to another devastating neurological disorder: Alzheimer’s.”

Success of ALS clinical trial builds promise for neural stem cell therapies

Ann Arbor, Mich. — Patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who received cervical intraspinal injections of neural stem cells tolerated the procedure well and showed no signs of accelerated disease progression, a finding that lays critical groundwork for the use of neural stem cells in treating degenerative neurological disorders like ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Results of the first-of-its kind clinical trial led by researchers at the University of Michigan, “Intraspinal neural stem cell transplantation in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Phase 1 trial outcomes,” will be published in the March 2014 edition of Annals of Neurology.

The research team led by Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., used a novel spinal-mounted stabilization and injection device to deliver up to 1.5 million neural stem cells to the cervical, or upper, spinal cord of six ALS patients in the study’s second cohort. The first cohort included 12 patients who received stem-cell injections in the lumbar, or lower, spinal cord. Three patients were in both cohorts and received both treatments.

The Phase 1 trial is the first ever to use human subjects to test the safety of intraspinal stem cell injections. A Phase 2 trial is under way at the University of Michigan, Emory University and Massachusetts General Hospital to determine how patients do with larger doses. In Phase 2, subjects will receive as many as 16 million stem cells in the 9-hour procedure.

“We are extremely excited by the findings of this clinical trial,” said Dr. Feldman, Director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, Director of Research for the ALS Clinic at the University of Michigan Health System, principle investigator for the trial and lead author. “If we can show that injecting these stem cells can slow or even halt the progress of this devastating disease, we can begin to pursue further therapies and trials in the promising area of regenerative medicine.”

Researchers are hopeful that the lessons learned from the ALS stem-cell trial will help inform efforts to treat other serious neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

That concept is echoed in a commentary piece also to be published in the March 2014 edition of the Annals of Neurology titled “Cell therapy in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: A significant step forward,” by Tamir Ben-Hur, M.D., Ph.D., of Hadassah University Hospital in Israel. In the article, Dr. Ben-Hur noted that the ALS study not only established a technical benchmark for stem-cell injections, but also breaks a critical psychological barrier to stem-cell therapies.

“The importance of this report … lies far beyond its immediate conclusions,” Dr. Ben-Hur wrote. “The special design of the present study sets new standards for further clinical translation in regenerative medicine for neurological diseases.”

The stem cells for Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials were developed by Neuralstem, Inc., a company whose patented technology enables the production of neural stem cells of the brain and spinal cord in commercial quantities, and the ability to control the differentiation of these cells constitutively into mature, physiologically relevant human neurons and glial cells. Neuralstem, Inc. is a publicly traded company based in Rockville, Md. Dr. Feldman is an unpaid consultant to Neuralstem, Inc.

11 Taubman Scholars named among America’s best doctors

The following Taubman Scholars and Emerging Scholars are among the University of Michigan Medical School physicians recently named to the 2013-2014 “Best Doctors In America” list.

Frank (Chip) Brosius III, M.D.

Valerie P. Castle, M.D.

Sung Won Choi, M.D.

Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D.

Thomas W. Gardner, M.D., M.S.

Johann Gudjonsson, M.D., Ph.D.

Alon Kahana, M.D., Ph.D.

Theodore S. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D.

Parag Patil, M.D., Ph.D.

Henry L. Paulson, M.D.

Max S. Wicha, M.D.

The new national list includes 493 U-M physicians — and places them among the best 5 percent of doctors in their specialties. UMHS has more physicians recognized than any other health system in Michigan.

The list is compiled every year by Boston-based Best Doctors, Inc., and based on an in-depth survey, the List contains more than 53,000 U.S. physicians in 40 specialties and more than 400 subspecialties of medicine. In a confidential review, current physician listees answer the question, “If you or a loved one needed a doctor in your specialty, to whom would you refer?”

This yields a preliminary set of doctors who meet the initial criteria for inclusion. These physicians are then checked for credentials, disciplinary actions and clinical activity. Only doctors who meet all evaluation criteria are selected for the list.

A full list of the UMHS doctors on this year’s list is available at http://umhealth.me/bestdoc14.

Dr. Feldman paired with artist in ‘Art and Science’ fundraiser


Detroit artist John Corbin (left) visited the lab of Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., on March 20, 2014.

Detroit artist John Corbin (left) visited the lab of Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., on March 20, 2014.

Detroit — Dr. Eva Feldman, Director of the Program for Neurology Research & Discovery, will be paired with multimedia artist John Corbin of Detroit in a unique fundraising event, An Evening of Art and Science, on May 22 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

The event will unveil the works inspired by the pairing of 11 physician-researchers of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute with noted artists from the Detroit area and beyond. For months, the artists have been meeting with their medical counterparts to discuss the creativity that abounds in their respective disciplines, and to gain ideas and inspiration from the medical research being conducted by these dedicated clinician-scientists from the University of Michigan.

The art pieces generated from those collaborations will be sold at auction and the proceeds used to fund the Taubman Emerging Scholars program, which helps early-career clinician-scientists establish their laboratories.

For more information on the event, click here.

Taubman, Feldman receive ALSA Michigan Legacy of Hope Award

The ALS Association Michigan Chapter has named Mr. A. Alfred Taubman, founder and chair of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, and Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., the institute’s director, as the 2014 recipients of the association’s Legacy of Hope Award.

The award honors individuals who effect positive changes within the ALS community and demonstrate a remarkable commitment to the betterment of treatment for ALS patients, and the research necessary to find the cure for ALS.

“We are delighted to create this event to celebrate extraordinary individuals. Dr. Eva Feldman and Mr. A. Alfred Taubman have been selected to receive the Legacy of Hope award because of their dedication and commitment to the ALS community,” said Paula Morning, executive director of the association.

Through his establishment of the Taubman Institute at the University of Michigan, as well as for his philanthropic support of Dr. Feldman’s laboratory, the Program for Neurology Research & Discovery, Mr. Taubman has created an environment where scientists are working on ALS-related research ranging from imaging techniques to provide early diagnosis, to Dr. Feldman’s landmark trial of a first-ever stem cell treatment for ALS.  To date, 22 patients have received injections of specially engineered stem cells directly to their spinal cords in the FDA-approved trial, which is testing the ability of the stem cells to replace dying motor neurons.

“Mr. Taubman and I are deeply grateful to be selected as the inaugural recipients of this honor,” said Dr. Feldman.  “We greatly appreciate the recognition of our work at the Taubman Institute to create hope for ALS patients and their families, and are proud to accept it as representatives of the many other researchers, philanthropists and caregivers striving every day in the quest for new cures and treatments.”

Dr. Feldman and Mr. Taubman will be honored at the Legacy of Hope evening sponsored by the ALS Association Michigan Chapter on April 3.  The black-tie gala featuring a reception, dinner, auction and awards program will be held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham beginning at 6 p.m.   For information about tickets and sponsorship opportunities, visit www.alsa-michigan.org or call (248) 680-6540.

Journal recognizes Hinder paper as one of 2013’s best

A paper by PNR&D postdoctoral fellow Lucy Hinder, Ph.D., was recently named one of 2013’s best by editors of Journal of Endocrinology.

The paper, ‘Decreased glycolytic and tricarboxylic acid cycle intermediates coincide with peripheral nervous system oxidative stress in a murine model of type 2 diabetes,’ was published in Journal of Endocrinology January 2013.

The journal’s best papers were assessed using a number of factors, including the opinion of the Editorial Board and usage.

Click here to read the abstract.