The Causes of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

When I was a volunteer at the San Clemente, the first patient who I encountered was Grandpa Boris. He was a being filled with love and life which brightened my day. Unfortunately, behind all of his smiles, he was suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Tragically, his enthusiasm and energy diminished day by day as his symptoms for ALS continued to worsen.

Eventually, Grandpa Boris lost the ability to move and soon also lost his ability to communicate. He could no longer play with his grandchildren who came to visit him on Sundays. He sat helplessly in his wheelchair as his sad and dismal eyes gazed upon his grandchildren’s playful nature. Seeing his deterioration saddens me because I knew him as a happy and delightful individual. At the time, I felt frustrated because I was not able to help Grandpa Boris since I did not have the proper education or training. From my time working at the hospital, I have learned that it is important to know the pain of patients; however, it is more crucial to understand the causes of the pain.

The symptoms that Grandpa Boris suffered were caused by the progressive deterioration of motor activities that regulates muscle movements and flexing of muscles. ALS also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease occurs when the motor neurons are slowly diminishing; hence, resulting in muscle paralysis. This occurrence will interfere with the networking between the brain and the spinal cord. The malfunctioning between the brain and the spinal cord will result in the muscles losing strength and slowly losing its function to carry out actions that require physical abilities.

Although there is not a primary cause of ALS, there are many postulating explanations. The various investigated causes of ALS inclusively include inherited genetic mutations, head trauma, military service, and sports that require physical contact, chemical exposures, electromagnetic field exposures, and viral infections. One theory that explains the destruction of motor neurons involves glutamate, a chemical that transmits messages between the brain and nerve cells. When glutamate accumulates between the synapses, a high influx of calcium will enter the motor neurons resulting in the destruction of the nerve cells. A second theory for the damage of nerve cells is a mutation in the gene that creates superoxide dismutase, an enzyme that protects the body from damages produced by toxic free radicals. ALS patient may have this abnormal gene; thus, when free radicals build up in the body, the cell will undergo cell death (apoptosis). Ultimately, these highly reactive molecules will destroy nuclear DNA and proteins and lead to the degeneration of the motor neuron.

Due to the insufficient knowledge of what causes ALS, there are numerous ongoing research projects searching for a possible explanation for the death of the motor neuron. Once the cause has been identified, drugs will be produced in order to treat ALS. The current research projects will grant ALS patients, such as Grandpa Boris, a future in which he can feel the warm embrace of his grandchildren.