Emory School of Nursing faculty member receives research grant from The ALS Association

Feb. 14, 2020

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Vicki HertzbergSchool of Nursing professor Vicki Hertzberg, PhD, FASA has received a three-year grant from The ALS Association to fund a study focusing on microbes in ALS patients.

The study examines a small cohort of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patients with their partner or caregiver as controls with respect to the microbes comprising their gut and oral microbiota, with baseline evaluation within six months of ALS diagnosis and again at three months and again at six months. The researchers will compare patients and controls at baseline, evaluating how the two groups change over time, and examine the associations between changes in the gut microbiome over time in ALS patients with changes in their functional status.

This research could enable identification of novel therapeutic agents to address ALS, a debilitating disease with no effective therapeutics and no cure. Restoration of gut health could have therapeutic potential in terms of delaying progression, and microbiome profiles could serve as prognostic or phenotypic biomarkers in ALS.

The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) is a major partner in the study, providing the whole genome sequencing and data analysis needed to identify the microbial makeup of the ALS patients. Led by JCVI President Karen E. Nelson, Ph.D. and Harinder Singh, Ph.D., JCVI will determine the significantly depleted and enriched archaeal, protist, viral, fungal, and bacterial species and strains in the ALS microbiome samples by comparing them to the control group. JCVI is a world-leader in human microbiome analysis, pioneering the field and publishing the first human gut microbiome study in 2006.

“Dr. Hertzberg has extensive experience in epidemiology and clinical trial research in neurology having led major NIH and NIOSH-funded projects in these areas,” says Linda McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAAOHN, dean of Emory’s School of Nursing. “This research could enable identification of novel therapeutic agents to address ALS, a debilitating disease with no effective therapeutics and no cure.”

As the preeminent ALS organization, The ALS Association leads the way in research, care services, public education, and public policy. Their nationwide network of chapters provides comprehensive services and support to the ALS community including people living with ALS, their families and their caregivers. The mission of the Association is to discover treatments and a cure for the disease, and to serve, advocate for, and empower people affected by ALS to live their lives to the fullest.

Hertzberg is widely known for her work measuring the social contacts in emergency departments and disease transmission on aircraft. She collaborated with Jonathan Glass, MD, from the School of Medicine who focuses on the study of ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases using animal models, cell cultures, and human tissues to investigate the causes and potential cures for ALS. Glass also serves as the Director of the Emory ALS Center, one of the largest clinical centers in the Southeast.