Greg Cox, Associate Professor
Thanks to research by Dr. Cox, there is hope for the future for those affected by SMARD.
Dr. Cox talks about the limitations, frustrations and hopes of his ALS research
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Associate Professor Gregory Cox, Ph.D., studied biology at Humboldt State University before earning a doctorate in human genetics at the University of Michigan. Over the last decade, Dr. Cox and his research team at The Jackson Laboratory have been studying the genetic complexities of a wide range of motor neuron diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
"Motor neuron death is a part of aging," he says. "In ALS, motor neuron death is accelerated. When you age, you lose a motor neuron here and there, but you have hundreds and hundreds innervating a muscle, so, if you lose one, it’s not that big a deal. You lose another one next year, still no big deal. But, with ALS, when you lose 50 at a time, and they all start dropping out, that’s a very big deal."
Dr. Cox and other ALS researchers have found that fewer than 10 percent of the 5,600 new ALS cases diagnosed in the United States each year can be directly attributed to family genetics. With at least 90 percent of cases being random, ALS can potentially surface in anyone. Dr. Cox and other ALS experts doing molecular-level basic research are the first to admit that there are many more questions than answers.
"This disorder is so devastating, and our knowledge base is still so incomplete," he says. "And, in terms of the sporadic cases, we’re all still scratching our heads. We really don’t know what triggers these sporadic cases. We’re just hopeful that what we can figure out in the handful of genetic cases might apply to sporadic cases, but that’s a big ‘might.’ We have no idea if it will or not, but it’s the only handle we have.
"Our expectation is that there will be a genetic susceptibility to ALS, that it’s not completely random. We are uncovering the genes and mechanisms regulating disease susceptibility, but these same genetic mechanisms might also regulate susceptibility to whatever environmental triggers could be contributing to disease."