The Challenge: Diagnosing and Treating ALS

Receiving a diagnosis of ALS is a long and complicated process. There is currently no definitive test for ALS. Patients are tested for dozens of other possible conditions before a diagnosis is made. On average, patients wait a full year after the first symptoms appear to receive a proper diagnosis.

Receiving an earlier diagnosis of ALS helps patients in a number of ways.

  • Patients would be able to attend specialized ALS clinics earlier. Here, patients receive multidisciplinary care that improves and prolongs life. These clinics typically involve meeting with neurologists, physiatrists, respirologists, respiratory therapists, physiotherapists, occupational and speech therapists, social workers, and research staff.
  • Patients are able to enroll in clinical trials earlier.

Bridging the Gap: Using Advanced MRI to detect and monitor ALS

Patients living with ALS experience changes in motor functioning due to changes in the nervous system. Unlike conditions such as strokes, multiple sclerosis, or tumors, ALS cannot be detected using standard imaging methods, including MRIs ordered in the clinic.

However, advanced MRI techniques have shown changes in various measures indicative of brain health. These imaging-based measurements have immense potential in providing biomarkers for ALS.

Biomarkers (or “biological markers”) are essentially tests that indicate the presence of a disease. Depending on the nature of the disease, these markers can be found in blood, cerebrospinal fluid, urine, genes, or in the physical structure of organs.

Using advanced MRI methods, our research and the work of other scientists has shown differences in brain structure, function and chemistry in patients with ALS. We believe that we can identify imaging-based biomarkers that will not only lead to earlier diagnoses, but also help researchers and clinicians track the progress of the disease, evaluate new drugs, and improve our understanding of ALS biology.