Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, can be treated with an existing drug used for Parkinson’s disease, a research team led by a Keio University professor discovered through induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology.

Hideyuki Okano, of the Department of Physiology at the university’s Graduate School of Medicine, announced the finding at a symposium on regenerative medical techniques.

Okano’s team discovered the drug’s efficacy for ALS by using “drug discovery and development” methods, which include experiments using iPS cells.

Okano said on Oct. 13 at a gathering in Tokyo that the new approach is likely to be able to halt the progression of ALS, or even provide a cure.

ALS is an incurable disease in which nerve damage causes patients to progressively lose control of their muscles, including those for breathing, and they gradually become completely paralyzed. There are estimated to be more than 9,000 ALS patients in Japan.

Drugs exist that can slow the progression of the disease, but effective treatment has remained elusive to date.

The team reproduced ALS sufferers’ conditions by using iPS cells based on cells harvested from ALS patients for whom the disease runs in the family. They tried about 1,230 types of drugs, leading to the discovery that ropinirole hydrochloride, a drug for Parkinson’s disease, elicited an effect.

They conducted the same experiment using iPS cells based on cells harvested from ALS patients who do not have any ALS-suffering relatives.

The results revealed that ropinirole hydrochloride is also effective for 16 of 22 types of sporadic ALS.

The cause of ALS is unknown, but a specific protein that accumulates in patients’ nerve cells and other factors are thought to induce the illness.

It was confirmed that ropinirole hydrochloride is effective in slowing the protein’s accumulation and in conserving more cells.