Blazeman Foundation Awards Second Grant for ALS Research at Wake Forest Baptist

March 1, 2012

The Blazeman Foundation for ALS has awarded its second grant to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for research into Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscles. Weakness and paralysis result, with death from respiratory failure usually following in two to five years. There is no cure.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist are studying whether the drug AICAR, already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for other purposes, can make nerves less susceptible to ALS. Previous funding from the Blazeman Foundation enabled researchers to verify that AICAR produces certain key results at the cellular level. The new grant of $11,300 will support the next step in finding out if the drug can be effective against ALS.

The study is being conducted by Carol Milligan, Ph.D., professor, and Ramon Jimenez-Moreno, Ph.D., research fellow, in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the Wake Forest School of Medicine

“Developing new treatments is a long process that grows in scale until eventually you have trials with patients,” Milligan said. “But it all starts with basic science research to test the merit of an idea. Finding the money for this kind of study can be tough – someone has to take a chance on your work. If what we’re doing continues to pan out, the Blazeman Foundation will have helped lay the foundation that might lead to a way to help treat individuals with this terrible disease.”

“We’re excited about the promising results,” said Bob Blais, who runs the Blazeman Foundation with his wife, Mary Ann. “Looking for new ideas and supporting the science behind them is why our son Jon started the foundation.”

An elite athlete and multisport competitor, Jonathan “Blazeman” Blais learned he had ALS in 2005 at age 33. Five months after the diagnosis, Blais became the only individual with ALS to complete an Ironman triathlon, finishing the course in Kona, Hawaii, in 16 hours, 28 minutes, 56 seconds. He crossed the finish line by log-rolling over it, and since then, the "log roll" has been performed by countless athletes to raise awareness about ALS and
the urgent need for a cure.

From the foundation’s base in Seekonk, Mass., the Blaises coordinate Team Blazeman, a nationwide team of multisport athletes who help carry out the foundation’s mission in memory of Jon Blais, who died in May 2007. 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.

“Jon always knew the multisport community would carry on his fight,” said Bob Blais, who added that it is “destiny” that researcher Jimenez-Moreno is an amateur multisport competitor. “As athletes and caring people, the Warriors live by the same spirit Jon did. If the study at Wake Forest works out, they’ll be log-rolling across the finish line.”

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Paula Faria:, 336-716-1279