Researchers at Trinity College Dublin will head to Latin America to investigate whether the probability of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is reduced in people with mixed ancestry.
This new project will examine the hypothesis that mixed ancestral backgrounds might protect a person from developing ALS. Researchers will set up new registers of the incidence of ALS, as well as its prevalence and risk factors in Cuba, Chile and Uruguay, as these three countries have particularly high percentages of people with mixed ancestry.
Earlier studies led by Trinity researchers suggested that the incidence of ALS was lower in populations with mixed ancestral backgrounds, like Hispanic or African-American populations.
In Cuba, particularly, the population is mixed, but there is no stratification based on race, so color shouldn’t correlate with socioeconomic status, as it does in the U.S. and some other countries. The structure of the Cuban health system also means that everybody can be identified and studied equally. These specific locations also will allow the Trinity team to analyze any influence of latitude on ALS prevalence, as well as genetic risk factors.
“Demonstrating and understanding the reasons for the real differences across populations of different ancestral origin will help us to unlock the mysteries of this tragic illness. Our research will allow us to find new and more effective drugs by comparing the different clinical and genetic profiles, and identifying and targeting pathways that increase the risk of developing disease,” Orla Hardiman, director of the National Specialist Clinic for ALS at the National Neuroscience Centre Beaumont Hospital and professor of neurology at Trinity, said in a press release.
The data from this study is expected to bring significant value and new information to the analysis of the influence of mixed ancestry in developing ALS. These insights are critical to determining the causes of this disease and to find new ways to treat it. Because of this study’s importance, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has given the Trinity team $800,000 in research funding for the project in Latin America.
“Ireland has the longest-running ALS register in the world, and the Irish ALS research team is internationally recognized as a strong leader in clinical and epidemiological research. The funding provided by the CDC is in recognition of this international standing,” Hardiman said.