It has been nearly 70 years since baseball legend Lou Gehrig bid farewell to his fans in Yankee stadium, having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” just 17 days shy of his 38th birthday.
Researchers are continuing to try to understand the disease that claimed his life in 1941. ALS currently affects as many as 35,000 Americans and every day an average of 15 people are diagnosed with ALS – more than 5,000 people per year – according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Unfortunately, the average life expectancy following diagnosis typically is two to five years.
A cure for ALS will require a great deal of support from the private sector to help fund ongoing and new ALS research. Since it began in 2001, Tucson’s annual Jim Himelic Memorial Golf Classic, Dinner, Auctions and Dancing has raised $625,000 to benefit ALS research at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.
This year’s event will be held Friday, April 16, at the Omni National Golf Resort & Spa, 2727 W. Club Drive, Tucson.
The day’s schedule includes:
- 11 a.m. – Registration begins.
- 12:30 p.m. – Shotgun start.
- 6-7:30 p.m. – Silent auction, with music by the Ed Delucia Trio.
- 7:30-11 p.m. – Dinner, live auction and dancing to music by George Howard and the Roadhouse Hounds. Master of Ceremonies: Elliot Glicksman.
Organizers once again are asking the Southern Arizona community to participate in this fun-filled daylong event to support vital scientific research with the goal of improving our understanding of ALS and developing effective treatments that ultimately will lead to a cure. All proceeds directly benefit UA ALS research.
The event is named in honor of Jim Himelic, a friend of the Tucson community and much-respected juvenile court judge who died from ALS in February 2000. The Jim Himelic Foundation (JHF) was created by his family, friends and colleagues in 2000 to fund local ALS research.
The foundation’s goal is to raise $1 million in “seed money” – money that will allow UA researchers to conduct the preliminary research necessary for obtaining larger government and private grants to further their studies of ALS.
ALS is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease affecting adults from all walks of life, most commonly people between ages 40 to 60, but sometimes younger and older people as well. The disease affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that are responsible for movement. ALS causes a loss of muscle function – including the muscles used for speech, swallowing and breathing – and paralysis that eventually leads to death. The mind and senses remain unaffected.
Although significant advances have occurred in the medical community’s understanding of the processes underlying ALS, no effective treatment exists at this time.
JHF Supports UA ALS Research
JHF supports a variety of investigations at the Jim Himelic Neuromuscular Research Laboratory at the UA College of Medicine Department of Neurology.
Funds raised have allowed Daniela C. Zarnescu, PhD, UA assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and neuroscience, to join the Jim HimelicNeuromuscular Research Laboratory. Dr. Zarnescu is using the high degree of conservation between fruit fly (Drosophila) and human disease genes as a basis for modeling human neurological and neurodegenerative disorders in Drosophila. A number of genes have been linked to cases of ALS that are inherited (about 10 percent); researchers believe the majority of ALS cases also are likely due to mutations in several genes. “A mutation in a gene called TDP-43 has emerged as a common denominator for the majority of ALS cases known to date,” says Dr. Zarnescu. “We have been working to establish a Drosophila model for ALS based on both loss of function and over-expression of TDP-43 in the nervous system.” Dr. Zarnescu believes her research will uncover therapeutic agents that will target the abnormal TDP-43 gene, which is a hallmark of other human neurodegenerative disorders. “We may discover approaches that are applicable to ALS as well as potentially other neurodegenerative diseases that share common pathological features,” she says.
Funds also have allowed Miguel Estevez, MD, PhD,
UA assistant professor of neurology, to continue his research in motor neurons in mice. Dr. Estevez says mice that have calcium buildup to a toxic level show loss of motor neurons. These mice are referred to as “wobbly” mice because they show loss of motor skills. “Since previous studies have shown abnormally elevated calcium levels in the motor neurons of ALS patients and intracellular calcium levels are a critical regulator of necrotic and apoptotic cell death pathways, we hypothesized that the wobbly mice might be developing ALS-like motor neuron loss,” says Dr. Estevez. The goal is to use the wobblymice to screen compound libraries to identify potential ALS medicines based on their ability to suppress the emergence of paralysis in the mouse models. Given the importance of intracellular calcium levels in the regulation of cell death, the wobbly mouse model may be able to detect compounds effective in a broader spectrum of ALS patients than previous drug screens, Dr. Estevez explains.
JHF Helps Apply ALS Research in a Clinical Setting
JHF also is working with neurologists Katalin Scherer, MD
, UA assistant professor of neurology, and Holli Horak, MD
, UA associate professor of neurology, to apply ALS research in a clinical setting. JHF hopes to fund local and national multi-center clinical trials, based on the ALS patient base of Southern Arizona, with the help of the ALS clinic established and directed by Dr. Scherer. Dr. Horak joined the clinic in February to provide comprehensive state-of-the-art and innovative care for patients.
Named the MDA/ALS Center at UPH Hospital, the clinic opened in August 2008 at University Physicians Hospital and Clinics, 2800 E. Ajo Way, Tucson. The center is Southern Arizona’s only multidisciplinary clinic dedicated to the care of patients with ALS. During each clinic visit, patients meet with a physician, physical therapist, occupational therapist, respiratory therapist, speech and language pathologist, dietician and an MDA health-care services coordinator, all in one location.
The center is one of only 37 facilities at major medical institutions in the country designated by the Muscular Dystrophy Association as MDA/ALS Centers, indicating the high level of expert medical care and clinical research taking place there. For more information about the MDA/ALS Center at UPH Hospital, call (520) 874-2747.
How You Can Help
The public’s help continues to be needed. JHF believes that ALS can be cured through focused, dedicated neurological research within the next quarter century. Supporting this local effort to eradicate ALS can make an immediate difference.
Fees for the 2010 Jim Himelic Memorial Golf Classic, Dinner, Auctions and Dancing are as follows:
- Golf/dinner/auction/dancing: $175 per person/$700 per foursome (golf and dinner fees do not qualify as a tax-deductible donation). Format will be four-person scramble (form your own foursome or JHF will pair you). Limited to 144 players.
- Dinner/auction/dancing only: $60 per person (dinner fees do not qualify as a tax-deductible donation)
Premier: $1,000 ($180 qualifies as tax-deductible donation)
Tee sign: $300 (fully tax-deductible)
Driving range: $400 (fully tax-deductible)
Practice green: $400 (fully tax-deductible)
Mulligan: $500 (fully tax-deductible)
To register, or for more information about the Jim Himelic Memorial Golf Classic, Dinner Auctions and Dancing and ALS research at the UA, contact Diana Himelic Dawley, (520) 907-5235, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Web site, www.jimhimelicfoundation.org