The ALS Association Presents Essey Award to Clive Svendsen

April 1, 2010

The ALS Association joins the American Academy of Neurology in presenting The 2010 Sheila Essey Award for ALS Research to Dr. Clive Svendsen, a global leader for stem cell research.  Dr. Svendsen has been instrumental in bringing stem cell approaches to the clinic.

Dr. Svendsen is currently the Director of the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute in California.  Initially focusing largely on Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Svendsen received funding through The ALS Association to establish stem cell approaches for the treatment of ALS.  Several of his published studies describe detailed and elegant work using modified neural stem cells to release powerful trophic factors such as glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) to surrounding motor neurons.  These studies were performed in transgenic rats expressing mutant G93A Superoxide Dismutase 1 (SOD1), a rat model of ALS.  These studies revealed that even though motor neurons releasing GDNF could survive and protect dying motor neurons after transplantation, the rats did not show functional improvement.  Further studies from his group injecting GDNF releasing cells into the muscles rather than spinal cord did increase function in this ALS model system and highlighted the importance of maintaining appropriate connections at the neuromuscular junction.  However, as the cause of sporadic ALS remains a mystery, either approach may have beneficial effects in the disease itself.

Dr. Svendsen has worked for many years in collaboration with Dr. Nicholas Boulis to help develop the appropriate surgical techniques in preparation for using these GDNF secreting cells in a clinical trial.  These same surgical techniques are being used in the current Neuralstem trial.  In addition, together with Derek Hei from the University of Wisconsin, his team has generated good manufacturing procedures (GMP) and a clinical grade bank of human cells producing GDNF for use in future clinical trials.

Dr. Svendsen and his group have also harnessed the induced pluripotent stem cell technology, using adult skin cells and reprogramming these cells to be able to generate a variety of neuronal cell types including motor neurons.  Using this technology he is developing model systems for diseases such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Huntington’s disease and ALS.

"I'm very honored to have received this award and would like to dedicate it to my friend Jeff Kaufman who devoted his life to raising funds for ALS before finally falling to this horrific disease.  We will use the award money to continue exploring novel stem cell and growth factor treatments," commented Dr. Svendsen.

In 1996, The ALS Association in partnership with the American Academy of Neurology inaugurated the Sheila Essey Award for ALS Research to acknowledge and honor an individual actively engaged in ALS research who is making significant contributions in research for the cause, treatment, prevention or cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  The recipient receives a $25,000 prize to be used specifically for continuing his/her ALS research.  Funding of the award is made possible through The Essey Family Fund and The ALS Association.

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