The Ohio State University Alumni Association

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Dr. Stephen Kolb, left, speaks with research scientist Mehmet Yalvac in Kolb’s lab inside Rightmire Hall.

Jo McCulty

Seeing the whole patient

Ohio State’s ALS/Motor Neuron Disease Multidisciplinary Clinic treats more than 250 ALS patients.

Dr. Stephen Kolb isn’t normally a boastful type, but when he’s asked about the work being done at Ohio State to treat and investigate the neuromuscular disorder ALS, the research neurologist can’t contain himself.

“We’re rocking it,” says Kolb, director of the university’s ALS/Motor Neuron Disease Multidisciplinary Clinic and Translational Research Program.

The clinic includes a team of physicians, therapists — physical, occupational, respiratory and speech — as well as genetic counselors, research coordinators and a social worker who care for more than 250 ALS patients.

“What makes us unique is that we have sort of one-stop shopping,” Kolb says. “People with ALS benefit from a team of providers, and a multidisciplinary approach is the best way to provide that benefit.”

Ohio State’s was the first multidisciplinary clinic in Ohio, and one of a handful of ALS clinics nationwide, to offer genetic testing to all patients. Genetic testing can help patients understand why they developed ALS, and in some cases, qualify for clinical trials.

Researchers in the Translational Research Program also are probing the role genes play in the development and progression of ALS. In partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Kolb’s team is turning stem cells from individuals into motor neurons needed for survival and then creating a culture system of relevant cell types for comparative study, all of which is aimed at helping future ALS patients.

“What is emerging is that genetics is much more important [in ALS] than we had thought,” Kolb says. “In the next five years, there will be targeted gene therapy options for ALS. We want to continue to be one of those programs at the forefront.”

That cutting-edge research earned Ohio State selection to Answer ALS, the largest comprehensive research project seeking a cure for ALS. Wexner Medical Center is one of eight clinical sites and laboratories working together to create a database of information collected from 1,000 volunteer ALS patients.

Kolb is hopeful a cure will be discovered.

“We’re actually seeing changes” he says. “People say, ‘No one will ever figure that out.’ That’s not true.”