The ALS Association

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Brian Frederick
The ALS Association
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Dr. John Ravits Receives Sheila Essey Award for Research Contributions

Washington, D.C. (March 15, 2017) — The ALS Association, in partnership with the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), has awarded the 2017 Sheila Essey Award for ALS Research to John Ravits, M.D., Professor of Neurosciences and Director of ALS Programs at the University of California at San Diego. Dr. Ravits is also is one of the programmatic reviews that supports the CDMRP ALSRP. The award recognizes significant research contributions in the search for the cause, prevention of and cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Since 1996, The ALS Association and the American Academy of Neurology have jointly chosen recipients of the award.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Eventually, people with ALS lose the ability to initiate and control muscle movement, which leads to total paralysis and death, usually within two to five years of diagnosis. For unknown reasons, veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS as the general population. There is no cure.

The Sheila Essey Award for ALS Research is given to acknowledge and honor an individual who is making significant contributions in research. The award is made possible through the generosity of the Essey Family Fund through The ALS Association Golden West Chapter, in memory of Sheila Essey, who battled ALS for ten years and died from the disease in 2004. Richard Essey, Sheila’s husband, served as a National Trustee of The ALS Association and is one of the founders of the Greater Bay Area Chapter, now the Golden West Chapter. Past recipients have used the funds to continue ALS research or to support promising young scientists on their research teams. The ALS Association and The AAN are deeply grateful for the unwavering commitment of Richard Essey in continuing to support this important honor.

Ravits has made significant contributions to the understanding of ALS disease progression and to treatment of the disease. He has combined detailed analysis of clinical records with post-mortem studies to reveal the pattern of disease spread through the spinal cord and brain. This led to the seminal observation that the spreading pattern was consistent with transfer of disease from cell to cell within the nervous system. This work has laid the foundation for further discoveries suggesting that disease spread depends on a templating process, in which misfolded proteins in one neuron are transferred to another, causing further misfolding.

Ravits was also co-principal investigator on pioneering studies demonstrating the potential of “antisense oligonucleotides” as a therapy for the most common genetic form of ALS, C9orf72. Dr. Ravits’s work showed that this therapy has the potential to reduce harmful products from the expanded C9orf72 gene, which accounts for approximately 10% of all ALS. Dr. Ravits’s work in this area has also included major contributions to understanding the nature and behavior of these harmful gene products.

In addition to his research, Ravits has been a principal investigator on numerous clinical trials in ALS, has created tissue repositories for neuropathological study, and is Director of the ALS Clinic at University of California San Diego Health System, an ALS Association Certified Center of Excellence.

“Dr. Ravits’s contributions to the understanding and treatment of ALS have been highly significant,” said ALS Association Chief Scientist Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., MBA. “His insights into disease neuropathology have formed a framework for highly productive research into the molecular basis of disease spreading, and his contributions to development of antisense treatment for the C9orf72 gene expansion have allowed this treatment strategy to move rapidly toward clinical trials. The Association could not be more pleased to honor him with this award.”

The award will be presented April 23, 2017, at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Boston, Massachusetts.

About The ALS Association

The ALS Association is the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front. By leading the way in global research, providing assistance for people with ALS through a nationwide network of chapters, coordinating multidisciplinary care through certified clinical care centers, and fostering government partnerships, The Association builds hope and enhances quality of life while aggressively searching for new treatments and a cure. For more information about The ALS Association, visit our website at

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