$250,000 Prize Supports a Professor’s Work to Treat ALS

March 31, 2022

The award supports the development of a potential noninvasive ALS treatment by Neuroscience Professor Zaghloul Ahmed and his collaborator at PathMaker Neurosystems Inc.

Physical Therapist with an Elderly Patient
(Credit: Getty Images)
Zaghloul Ahmed - Faculty -  profile photo
Professor Zaghloul Ahmed

The lab of Professor Zaghloul Ahmed, professor of neuroscience at the Graduate Center and chair of the Physical Therapy program at the College of Staten Island, was co-awarded $250,000 from a private philanthropy based in London that supports new therapies and potential cures for people with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The award, a CERF Medical Electronics Prize from the Cullen Education and Research Fund, will be shared with PathMaker Neurosystems Inc., a near-commercial-stage company co-founded by Ahmed. Both Ahmed’s lab and PathMaker focus on noninvasive treatments for serious neurological disorders such as stroke, cerebral palsy, and ALS, and for spinal cord injuries.

Ahmed received his Ph.D. in 2006 from the Neuroscience Subprogram at the Graduate Center, where he studied the effect of magnetic field and electrical stimulation on the brain. When he enrolled, he was already a licensed physical therapist who specialized in orthopedics. Over the years he pursued his interest of linking neuroscience with clinical work, particularly in ways that could help patients with neurological disorders and spinal cord injuries.

One of the major issues with ALS — a nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing progressive loss of muscle control — is over-excitability or responsiveness in the spinal cord, Ahmed explained in an interview. Three years ago, Ahmed’s lab published a paper showing that a noninvasive tool they developed could transmit a pattern of electrical stimulation through the skin to the spinal column in a way that reduces over-excitability, potentially benefitting patients with ALS.

The prize money is intended to further research on this tool, which would be the first of its kind for ALS, Ahmed says. “Our hyperexcitability suppression technology enables the noninvasive suppression of overactive motor neurons — this is an approach that has not previously been applied to ALS,” he said in a statement about the award. “We have already obtained very promising results in our pre-clinical studies, and these results have been presented at recent ALS conferences.”

In addition to reducing excitability in the spinal cord, the tool increases the production of heat shock proteins, which help clear folded toxic proteins from the body. People with ALS have lower levels of heat shock proteins; the tool developed by Ahmed can multiply the level of these proteins by three or four times, Ahmed said, increasing its potential effectiveness.


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