ALS Researcher Wins $50,000 Sheila Essey Award

MINNEAPOLIS – The American Academy of Neurology and The ALS Association are awarding the 2017 Sheila Essey Award to John M. Ravits, MD, from the University of California San Diego, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. The award recognizes significant research contributions in the search for the causes, prevention and cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Ravits will receive the award at the American Academy of Neurology’s 69th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 22-28, 2017. The Annual Meeting is the world’s largest gathering of neurologists with more than 13,000 attendees and more than 2,700 scientific presentations on the latest research advances in brain disease. The $50,000 prize is given to fuel continuing ALS research. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It is characterized by the gradual degeneration and death of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord leading to muscle weakness. People with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which often leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis. At this time, there is no known cause or cure, and there is only one drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that modestly extends survival. Ravits is receiving the award for his work mapping the progression of ALS over space, in the brain and spinal cord, as well as over time. His research has shown that vastly different ALS patients share a common trait: symptoms begin focally, in one localized area, and spread neuroanatomically, throughout the anatomy of the nervous system. “When I see patients at the beginning of the disease, their symptoms seem to have broken out in one region of the body,” said Ravits. “But as I follow them over time, those symptoms appear to spread to neighboring areas. Symptoms like hand weakness seem to travel up the arm and over to the other arm.” Ravits’ research shows the disease process begins in a random site within the body and then spreads to an adjacent area according to neuroanatomic patterns, accounting for the pattern of symptom progression. As the disease advances, the pattern of the spread becomes more complex. Ravits’ research into this spread has helped to create a framework for understanding clinical onset, progression, molecular mechanisms and regional therapies. “I am proud to be a contributor to the ALS field and especially honored to be singled out at this time, when many discoveries, ideas, genes, gene pathways, mechanisms and therapies are advancing at a rapid pace,” Ravits said. The Sheila Essey Award for ALS Research is made possible through the generosity of the Essey Family Fund through The ALS Association Golden West Chapter. It is in memory of Sheila Essey, wife of National Trustee Richard Essey, who battled ALS for ten years and died from the disease in 2004. Learn more about ALS at

The American Academy of Neurology is the world's largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with 34,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.

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