I know it’s perverse, but the second thing that popped into my head when I read about iron-based proteins and ALS, was a toy I loved as a kid. There were iron filings trapped under plastic and you used a wand with a magnet on the end to put iron-filing “hair” on a picture of a bald person.
Hey, with an illness as serious as ALS, you gotta take any opportunity to laugh, right?
And, in my defense, the FIRST thing that popped into my head when I read the article was, “Cool! Progress in ALS! Way to go, Ice Bucket Challenge!”
ALS is such a cruel disease. It strips away both mental and physical abilities. It starves muscles, making them atrophy, or shrink. It progressively kills the motor neurons that enable us to speak, eat, move, and breathe.
So What’s It All About, Alfie?
Apparently, some dedicated Chinese scientists discovered that people with ALS have higher levels of a brain protein called ferritin. Now, I pretty much failed chemistry in high school, and the periodic table is not my friend. But I do remember that the periodic table abbreviation for iron is Fe, as in “ferritin.”
Iron is an important part of a healthy human diet. Iron in your red blood cells helps your body get enough oxygen. The protein ferritin helps your body store iron and release it when it’s needed. Doctors monitor ferritin levels with a simple blood test. The normal range for women is 11 to 307 nanograms; for men, 24 to 336 nanograms.
Why is that exciting?
One goal of medicine is to catch a disease early on, because, in most cases, early management/treatment is beneficial. Via testing, doctors look for indications—called “markers”—that will help them diagnose a problem ASAP.
Only about 10% of ALS cases are of the familial variety, where the ALS genetic mutation runs in families. That leaves a whopping 90% of “sporadic ALS” cases in which the cause for disease development isn’t known. One theory is that having high levels of metal in the blood might increase the risk of developing ALS—and this recent research seems to bear out that hypothesis.
It’s interesting research (you can read it yourself here) and IMHO, an exciting step forward in the search for a cure for ALS.