2019 Clinical Fellowship Program Recipients

2019 Clinical Research Training Fellowship in ALS Research

The 2019 awardee of the  Clinical Research Training Fellowship in ALS Research is Jennifer Marsella, M.D., University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York. The Clinical Research Training Fellowship Award is given annually by The ALS Association, the American Brain Foundation, and the American Academy of Neurology.  

Project Summary: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that is often fatal within five years, most commonly due to respiratory failure caused by weakened respiratory muscles. The use of non-invasive ventilation, which is pressurized air delivered through a mask, prolongs survival and improves quality of life for people with ALS. However, many people do not use non-invasive ventilation due to an inability to tolerate it. Dr. Marsella will identify the barriers that prohibit people living with ALS from tolerating non-invasive ventilation through in-depth interviews and a focused questionnaire of participants in the National ALS Registry. By identifying the most prominent barriers, Dr. Marsella will create a standardized protocol for evaluating and resolving these issues. Treating these barriers could improve tolerance and lead to prolonged survival and improved quality of life for people living with ALS. 

2019 Richard Olney Clinician-Scientist Development Award in ALS 

The 2019 winner of the  Richard Olney Clinician-Scientist Development Award in ALS is Suma Babu, MD, MBBS, MPH, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts. The Richard Olney Clinician Scientist Development Award in ALS is funded by The ALS Association, the American Brain Foundation, and the American Academy of Neurology.  

Project Summary: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive, ultimately fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. Individuals with ALS lose their strength, their ability to move their arms, legs, and body, and, ultimately, their ability to breathe without ventilator support. It is known from pre-clinical studies that inflammatory cells called “glia” are activated in brains and spinal cords of people with ALS and may play a role in disease progression. Dr. Babu’s goal is to understand the inflammatory and neurodegenerative changes in the spinal cords of people living with ALS. The program will enroll ALS participants who have weakness and atrophy of their arm muscles and healthy controls. Participants will undergo a single unique scan of their cervical spine that acquires both magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) images in one scan session. Dr. Babu will quantify (a) inflammation using a PET dye called “PBR28” that binds to activated glia in the spinal cord and (b) spinal cord atrophy at each vertebral level of the cervical spine. These imaging findings will be correlated with corresponding measures of strength and function of arm and respiratory muscles receiving their nerve supply from motor nerve cells residing at these spinal cord levels.