Digging deeper: our stories

Assessing ALS treatments

When testing a new treatment, researchers must assess whether it is improving symptoms. Taking advantage of the capabilities within the Harvard biomedical research community, Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center members developed a technology to detect small changes in disease progression in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


ALS strikes motor neurons, nerve cells that reach from the brain... to the spinal cord... and to muscles throughout the body. As motor neurons degenerate, they send fewer and fewer impulses directing muscles to move.  

Until now, scientists could quantify the number of remaining motor neurons in the muscles of ALS patients, but not how well they were functioning. With support from the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center, Lisa Krivickas and colleagues at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital developed a method to detect impulses from these motor neurons and translate the signals into a measurement of function. After further refinement, the technology will provide a more accurate measure of ALS severity. It may also be used to assess whether emerging therapies are helping patients.

About the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center

Established in 2001 by Dr. Joseph Martin (Dean of Harvard Medical School, 1997-2007), the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center is a pioneering biomedical research group focused on ending suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. By drawing on the intellectual strength and proven capability of the Harvard medical community and colleagues throughout the world, the NeuroDiscovery Center has developed a unique approach to understanding and treating these devastating diseases. 

Our focus:

  • Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and other degenerative diseases of the brain.

  • Combining academic creativity with a business-like approach to ensure a focused and efficient effort to advance the search for cures.

  • Accelerating the pace of progress, from scientific discoveries to meaningful patient treatments.

  • Real collaboration across the Harvard Medical community, prominent research centers worldwide and the private sector.

  • Applying discoveries about one neurodegenerative disease to better understand the others. 

Whereas our ultimate goal is simple — to improve the lives of the millions who face the physical, emotional, and economic burden of neurodegenerative diseases — these diseases represent a far too complex and urgent problem for any one group to tackle. To date, we have engaged over 800 researchers in a growing portfolio of outcome-directed research programs. For visionary philanthropists and scientists, participation in the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center's work offers the best hope for progress — please join us!

As of December 2010, the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center has 934 members from various institutions within the Medical area. The chart below lists the primary affiliations of our members: