School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

NIH grant funds testing of new drug to combat ALS

Jeffrey Loeb, M.D., Ph.D.

Jeffrey Loeb, M.D., Ph.D.

A Wayne State University Physician Group neurologist has secured a National Institutes of Health grant that will help test a new drug that could combat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

In “Soluble Neuregulins in Neuromuscular and Peripheral Nerve Development,” Jeffrey Loeb, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology and associate director of the Center of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, will examine how growth factors such as neuregulin “talk” to each other during the development of the nervous system and use the information to understand and develop new treatments for nervous system disorders such as ALS. The NIH awarded Dr. Loeb $1.33 million for the four-year study.

Dr. Loeb and other researchers are seeking ways to combat ALS through the Wayne State University Hiller ALS Center, founded by Detroit area businessman James Hiller, whose mother died of the condition.

“As the director of Research for the Hiller ALS Center, I am very pleased that we have been able to turn the generous support of Jim Hiller into propelling us into new research directions to combat ALS,” Dr. Loeb said. “The work funded by this new grant will allow us to test a new drug we have developed and patented here at Wayne State University. What makes this drug unique is the way it is selectively targeted to the diseased tissues.”

The drug, GlyB4, is a biopharmaceutical as opposed to a traditional small molecule drug, Dr. Loeb explained. GlyB4 is a protein that fuses two different segments of other proteins to improve the transport or targeting of the drug to specific tissues in the body affected by disease. The drug has recently secured worldwide patents.

Dr. Loeb will explore how to target the biological therapeutic to axoglial and neuromuscular junctions in nerve development.

ALS affects the central nervous system, resulting in a progressive degeneration of the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement and causing muscle weakness and wasting throughout the body. Motor neurons degenerate and die, resulting in a body that is unable to follow the brain’s instructions. Eventually the brain can no longer control any voluntary or involuntary movement, including breathing.

“To date there are few effective treatments for diseases of the peripheral and central nervous systems. A promising means to overcome this is to develop biologically-driven therapeutics that use growth factors required for nervous system formation,” Dr. Loeb said. “This proposal will attempt to overcome some off the major limitations in developing such therapeutics through an improved understanding of normal development and improved ways to target novel therapeutics within the nervous system.”

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