Complicated diseases require complicated answers. Neurodegenerative diseases are a broad class of maladies that don’t have a simple answers. Some 18 years ago it was suggested to the EPM society president that a “virtual” project should be launched. The vision included several labs, each taking a part in an aspect of EPM, sharing reagents, protocols, and data- to quickly advance a good diagnostic. With every new EPM society president the idea was awakened and alas, quickly put to bed.
Our laboratory investigates disease pathologies involved in protozoal encephalomyelitis (EPM) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Over the years we developed a panel of biomarkers and determined treatment responses in the EPM-suspect horse and determined the effects of drugs on various biomarkers. How much faster this would have been in a Virtual Laboratory! I’m pleased to report virtual sharing is springing up everywhere. For example, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative funds collaborative pilot projects addressing key challenges in the biology of neurodegenerative diseases.
Neurodegenerative Disease Research Inc, es.t April 21, 2020, funds a Virtual ALS Laboratory. So far, there are 14 primary researchers and the group is growing. Biomarkers are sorely needed and that is one focus of the group. Ideally, biomarkers change over time when given an effective treatment. A useful biomarker in murine, equine, and human ALS is neurofilament light (NfL). Neurofilaments are prognosticators of axon damage, the level of NfL changes quickly with an effective treatment. We use NfL levels found in horses that have demyelinating polyneuropathies to detect axon damage. The marker is useful to determine the cellular response to an effective therapy.
The NDR Virtual lab uses patient driven research, transformative technology, imaging, single cell biology, neuroscience, genomics, stem cells, biochemistry, computational biology, bioengineering, and immunology. Laboratories with a track record and an idea are funded to move their project along while incorporating experiments designed to cross-over with another laboratory. The Virtual lab is far more effective that the sum of the parts. Data from the initial funding is coming in and we hope to have some really great news for the ALS community soon.