Blazeman Foundation Awards Grant for ALS Research at Wake Forest Baptist

February 7, 2011

Grant Increases Likelihood of Further Funding and Research into Disease

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Feb. 7, 2011 – The Blazeman Foundation for ALS has awarded a grant of $11,300, with the possibility of providing an additional $11,000, to support research into Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) being conducted at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

ALS is a debilitating and lethal disease characterized by muscle weakness, paralysis and ultimately respiratory failure. The research study, titled “Muscle Fiber Type Switch as a Potential Therapeutic Target for ALS,” is being conducted by Carol Milligan, Ph.D., professor, and Ramon Jimenez-Moreno, Ph.D., research fellow, in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy.

The study will examine the use of the FDA-approved drug AICAR in inducing muscle-fiber type switch in the mouse model of ALS. Milligan said positive results in the study could provide the first step toward a clinical trial of AICAR for treating ALS symptoms.

“The Blazeman Foundation for ALS provides funds to explore new ideas,” Milligan said. “They are, without a doubt, laying a foundation for large advancements in understanding the disease and the development of effective therapeutics.”

Milligan said researchers working on ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases often lack the funding needed to obtain preliminary data. She said the grant addresses that need, which will make it easier to secure additional funding from other sources and promote further research.

“This preliminary data is essential to provide evidence of the merit of the new idea that can then be used to obtain more funding to support the larger study that must precede a clinical trial,” she said.

If the first phase of the research is successful, the Blazeman Foundation will provide the additional $11,000 to continue the research.

The foundation was created by the late Jonathan "Blazeman" Blais, an elite athlete and multi-sport competitor who was diagnosed with ALS in 2005 at age 33. Five months after being diagnosed, he became the only individual with ALS to complete an Ironman triathlon, finishing in 16:28:56. He crossed the finish line by log-rolling over it, and since then, the "log roll" has been performed by countless athletes as a symbol of hope and as a means of raising awareness for ALS.

Blais’ parents, Bob and Mary Ann Blais, now run the foundation, based in Seekonk, Mass. They coordinate Team Blazeman, a nationwide team of multi-sport athletes who help carry out the foundation’s mission. As team members, known as “Blazeman Warriors,” train and race, they raise awareness and funds for cutting-edge scientific research to find treatments and an eventual cure for ALS.

The Blais family said contributions to the foundation from the Rohto Ironman 70.3 Miami, an Ironman event, helped provide funds for the current grant to support Milligan’s research.

“Without the support of this event, we would not been able to fund this important research this soon,” Bob Blais said. “Jon felt strongly that the multi-sport community would play an important role in finding, at minimum, an effective treatment for ALS at its early stage. This study at Wake Forest Baptist hopefully will lead to that effective treatment."

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