Updated October 20, 2017

Elsa Tremblay from l’Université de Montréal studies ALS because of a personal connection.

Is there anything in particular that drew you to studying ALS?

I went into ALS because my father died from ALS, and also my grandmother. So it’s pretty clear that ALS is running in the family…probably a genetic cause. So this is really the motivation that has driven me to the study of this disease. And this is why I’m putting all my effort to try to unravel the mechanisms and understand the disease and try to find a cure for it.

Could you tell us a bit about your ALS Canada funded research?

My research is focused on the neuromuscular junction. This is the connection between the motor neuron and the muscle. So for example, when you want to perform a voluntary movement, then the command is traveling by the motor neuron into your spinal cord, and then finally will reach the muscle in order to perform the movement. But what happens in ALS is that the connection between the motor neuron and the muscle is progressively disconnected. So it’s like a bridge that disintegrates. So the message can no longer be sent. So I’m working to understand what’s making it happen, why is this disconnection and malfunction happening, and trying, maybe, to find therapeutic strategy to work on it.

If someone living with ALS were to ask you where we are at right now with ALS research, what would you tell them?

Right now I think we are in a great spot. Because there are several clinical trials ongoing. Some of them are at Phase 2, Phase 3… We have the Masitinib, Pimozide…We have other molecules, as well. There’s also a different strategy to interact with the proteins that are misfolding there, that are not working properly. So I think this is a very interesting moment for now, because we have hope.

We have therapeutic molecules that actually are pretty advanced in the process. So I think people can really have hope and can be confident that we, at some point, will find a cure. What I think is that we may not have only one cure for ALS, but depending on the genes involved, or depending of the various forms of the disease, we will have several cures, and we will be able to have a treatment based on the specifics of every patient.

Is there anything you would like to say to donors who are directing their donations to research?

Funding is making a great difference. I can tell you that. ALS is a very complex and difficult disease to understand. We have discovered several genes involved, several mechanisms. So it’s really a team effort to be able to unravel pathogens and mechanisms in the disease process. So I think funding allows us to have money for various projects. To really diversify the investigation we can do. And this is really the key for this team effort to be successful, and to allow us to find a cure for the disease.

I also think that having funding is also great motivation. It gives you a feeling that the ALS community supports you. It gives you—”I trust in you, I know what you’re going to do is going to make a difference.” And this is really a strong motivator, and it helps us to even work harder.

Sometimes when you get your first funding, it really helps you. But it’s just a first step. Because after that, you can get other funding from other sources. For example, in the lab, we got the Discovery Grant for two years. But then it allowed us to have a four year grant at the CIHR. So then we can continue our research project.

So it’s like when you plant a seed, and then it’s always surprising how tall it can grow. In ALS, every penny counts, every dollar counts. I strongly encourage you to help us plant a seed and watch it grow. And I think it is this team effort that is going to allow us to make ALS a treatable disease.

ALS Canada Virtual Research Forum:

Update: Elsa Tremblay was one of more than 20 speakers who participated in the ALS Canada Virtual Research Forum in August. You can listen to her full presentation online here.


Posted in: Research