The USC scientist who aims to beat ALS, and the patients cheering him on

Renee Zellweger and Justin Ichida attend Nanci Ryder’s “Team Nanci” 15th Annual LA County Walk To Defeat ALS. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)

Justin Ichida regularly gets emails from strangers asking an urgent question: Will your research on ALS be done in time to save my life?

“I don’t really know them, but they tell me their whole story,” said Ichida, a scientist with the USC Stem Cell program. “They’ll ask, ‘How long is it going to take for your new drug to reach clinical trials? Or get on the market?’”

He wishes he could have more answers, but there are reasons for optimism. Ichida studies the genetic components of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, to seek a cure for the progressive neurodegenerative disease. In February, his lab had a breakthrough, pinpointing a drug that seems to halt the progression of the disease in a certain type of ALS. About 10 percent of ALS patients have this type. The advance offered a sign of hope for many ALS sufferers, and for Ichida himself.

He’s in a race against time.

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