Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, affects about 30,000 Americans by causing their nerve cells to waste away, which leads to muscle weakness, twitching and, eventually, death, according the ALS Association. People with ALS and other related neurodegenerative diseases have long looked to stem cells as the medical miracle that might save their lives. Kevin Eggan, an associate professor in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University, is working on it.
Eggan made headlines in 2007 when he successfully created motor neurons characteristic of ALS using skin cells from a patient with the disease (see sidebar for details on how he did it). Since then, he has produced billions of spinal nerve cells to use in experiments probing the pathways and mechanisms of ALS, as well as trials testing new therapeutic agents.
In 2009, Eggan was selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist, an honor that earned him six years of dedicated support to conduct his research. In that time, he may unlock the mysteries of ALS and provide the techniques and knowledge about stem cells to help other scientists develop treatments for other devastating illnesses.