Ammar Al-Chalabi wins Sheila Essey Award
The American Academy of Neurology and the ALS Association has awarded the 2016 Sheila Essey Award to Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi from the Maurice Wohl Clinical Neuroscience Institute at King’s College London.
The award recognises significant research contributions in the search for the cause, prevention of and cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS is a motor neurone disease (MND) characterised by the gradual degeneration and death of motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord, leading to muscle weakness. People with ALS eventually become paralysed and die from respiratory failure an average of three years after symptoms first appear.
Professor Al-Chalabi is receiving the award for his role in helping transform the way the world thinks of ALS. While it was once thought that ALS was a simple disease with no genetic basis, except in those with a family history, it is now known to be a complex condition in which genetics combine with non-genetic factors, causing degeneration of motor neurones.
Professor Al-Chalabi and his team have helped identify many of the known ALS genes. Now, he and his colleagues are completing two of the largest ALS genetic studies ever. In one study, researchers are examining 17 million gene variations in 40,000 people. In the other, researchers are sequencing entire genomes of more than 20,000 people.
He said: ‘Understanding the genetic causes of ALS will help researchers understand the reasons motor neurones degenerate, identify the environmental and lifestyle risk factors and allow doctors to design personalised treatments. I feel incredibly honoured to receive the Sheila Essey Award.’
Professor Mark Richardson, Vice-Dean of Neuroscience at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), said: ‘This award is the leading international prize in ALS and MND research and is a fitting tribute to Ammar’s groundbreaking work in this area.
‘Two researchers from King’s have received the award previously - Professor Nigel Leigh in 2004 and Professor Chris Shaw in 2012 - and no other institution worldwide has had more awardees.
‘The prize is further recognition of King’s international leadership in the field of ALS and MND research.’
Professor Al-Chalabi received the award this week at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada. The Annual Meeting is the world’s largest gathering of neurologists with 12,000 attendees and more than 2,700 scientific presentations on the latest research advances in brain disease. The $50,000 prize is given to continue ALS research.