Mass General Is Part of The Largest-Ever Research Project Dedicated to ALS

The hospital is teaming up with Johns Hopkins and Cedars-Sinai to use big data to find better treatments.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Johns Hopkins University, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center announced Wednesday that they will collaborate on the largest-ever research project devoted to ending ALS.

The initiative, called Answer ALS, has already received $20 million in funding from donors including the NFL, the PGA Tour, ALS Finding a Cure, and more. The researchers will use big data and machine learning to analyze huge amounts of data about the neuromuscular disease, drawing on clinical, chemical, genetic, protein, historical, and biological information from ALS patients across the country—the largest collection of ALS data in history.

According to an announcement about the project, the researchers have five main goals: understanding the cause of ALS, constructing human cell models of the disease for study, beginning treatment trials based on cellular data, developing new therapies, and sharing the data accumulated with other experts in the field to encourage further progress.

In the statement, Answer ALS Co-Director Clive Svendsen said the team is using new tactics for medical discovery:

“We are combining big data, comprehensive biological analytics, technology and science in a way that would not have been possible a decade ago,” said Clive Svendsen, PhD, Director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Co-Director of Answer ALS. “What is so exciting and important is that all of this data will be made publicly available with free, open access to the ALS research community, so that we can make faster and greater strides together to find a cure for this disease.”

Aside from its expected impact on ALS, researchers believe their findings could potentially also apply to other neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.