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Identification of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis environmental risk factors in New Brunswick

Category(s): Health
Status: Active
Principal: Colleen O'Connell
Project Number: P0051
Year Approved: 2021

Project Description

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare neurological disease resulting in progressive loss of voluntary muscle control. No curative treatment exists, and death usually results from respiratory failure within 2-5 years. Most cases are sporadic, meaning the cause is unknown. Even when an ALS-related gene mutation is identified, there is no guarantee that an individual will develop ALS in their lifetime, suggesting a gene-environment interaction.

Preliminary analysis of ALS distribution in New Brunswick (NB) identified four “hotspot” regions with numbers above the expected incidence rate, even after correcting for age and population density. There was also a higher-than-expected overall incidence for the province. This discovery further points to the potential importance of environmental influence in ALS development. Few studies identify environmental risk factors for ALS. Nevertheless, previous studies have suggested that some rural residence exposures, water quality indicators, and long-term exposure to air pollutants play a role in ALS. However, there is still much uncertainty about these associations as few longitudinal studies exist to support these associations. Exploring these exposures in the surrounding environment of ALS individuals prior to their diagnosis may provide a better understanding of the etiology of the disease and the increased incidence seen in NB.