Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine




More than 30,000 people in the United States are afflicted with amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and another 5,000 will be diagnosed this year. A particularly insidious disease, it first affects control of movement, followed by speech and swallowing, and eventually the control of breathing. And throughout the duration of the illness, mental ability remains largely intact while the body fades away.

Dr. Stanley Appel and his colleagues in the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) ALS Clinical Research Center of the Methodist Neurological Institute are committed to helping this unique population of patients. They are conducting basic laboratory research as well as translational research in a clinical cohort of over 300 patients. In the laboratory, Dr. Appel’s group has documented the importance of immune/inflammatory alterations in mouse models of ALS. These studies have prompted an exploration of how protective immunity could prevent motor neuron injury and cell death. The goal is to translate these advances into effective therapy for ALS patients and thereby enhance their quality of life. At the present time there may not be a cure, but the disease is treatable, and much can be done to help patients and their families.

Working with Dr. Appel in the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) ALS Clinical Research Center of the Methodist Neurological Institute, Dr. Ericka Simpson and her research team are conducting several studies to determine the role of the body’s immune inflammatory response in the progression of the disease, as well as to test novel treatments. Dr. Simpson’s research has demonstrated an apparent overreaction of the microglia cells that surround the motor neurons, thus providing a potential therapy in the form of bone marrow-derived stem cell transplants.


Approximately 700,000 people suffer a new or recurring stroke in the United States each year, and it remains the third most common cause of death and the primary cause of serious long-term disability in adult Americans. Despite these staggering statistics, only one drug is currently approved by the FDA for treatment of acute stroke, and it is limited in its scope and application.

Dr. David Chiu and colleagues in the Eddy Scurlock Stroke Center are conducting numerous clinical trials to investigate drugs and procedures for stroke prevention and treatment. Current prevention studies focus on patients known to be at especially high risk for stroke; those with atrial fibrillation and patent foramen ovale. These studies involve the testing of investigational new drugs to prevent thrombus formation, and new devices and procedures to close septal holes.


Dr. Chiu is currently conducting two separate trials to test novel treatments for ischemic stroke that are especially innovative. The interventions being tested in these trials could provide a neuroprotective effect by interrupting the sequence of chemical reactions that occur during a stroke and result in permanent neuron death. One study involves an investigational new drug from industry, and the other uses infrared laser to stimulate brain tissue injured by a stroke.

Each year in the United States, more that 20,000 people are diagnosed with a primary brain tumor. If not caught in the earliest possible stage of progression, a patient’s survival rate is especially low. Understanding specifically how various brain cancers affect the DNA of brain cells is a major research interest of Dr. David Baskin and his team in the Neurosurgery Research Laboratory. Current studies are focused on labeling and imaging neurons in various types of brain cancer cells.

As many as one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, and over 40,000 more will be diagnosed this year. There are many types of FDA-approved drugs to treat the various stages of Parkinson’s, but they come with significant risk of serious side effects and dangerous food and drug interactions. Dr. Robert Grossman, a renowned neurosurgery pioneer, has spent the greater part of 50 years investigating surgical treatments for this devastating disease. With his research colleagues in the Department of Neurosurgery, Dr. Grossman has conducted numerous clinical studies for the treatment of Parkinson’s. His current studies aim to develop quantitative measurements of muscle strength and movement to allow for more accurate evaluations of both disease progression and treatment efficacy.