As the 2011 baseball season speeds toward its conclusion, thoughts often turn to past seasons and baseball greats. Though the legendary Lou Gehrig was a New York Yankee, his ultimate legacy is a continued awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, the ultimately fatal nerve disease which affects and disrupts voluntary muscle control) that cut his life short — and a foundation built to combat it.
Just last month, the ALS Hope Foundation of Philadelphia and the Israel ALS Research Association, or IsrALS, its sister associate, announced the collaborative launch of the Tikvah Project, linking researchers and clinicians from Philadelphia and Israel to pinpoint the cause and cure of what has become known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
To celebrate this venture, a benefit is set Sept. 21, at 6 p.m., at the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia, with speakers Shirley Kutner, senior executive consultant in life sciences and biotechnology at Drexel University and founder of BIOJERUSALEM; and Efrat Carmi, deputy CEO of IsrALS.
Dr. Terry Heiman-Patterson, co-founder of the ALS Hope Foundation, says that the benefit is a starting point for a more serious "competition" of sorts, aimed at the medical and science communities on both sides of the Atlantic active in the fight against ALS.
One planned highlight of the evening will be a 10-minute video of the late IsrALS CEO Nir Tsoran. Guidelines for applications for the Nir Tsoran International ALS Research Award will be announced during the benefit.
The winning team of researchers working in Israel and Philadelphia will be announced and awarded during the May Israel Life Sciences Industry's BIOMED conference in Tel Aviv.
Tsoran battled ALS for several years and succumbed to the disease in his 40s. The Israeli high school teacher, farmer and father spent his last years involved in community service and promoting volunteerism.
"Upon learning of his diagnosis in his early 40s, Nir began to realize that little was known about ALS," recalls Dan Schwarz, Tsoran's locally based cousin.
When Tsoran founded and became CEO of IsrALS in 2006, no research laboratories focused on ALS existed in Israel. As a result of his tireless commitment, 20 labs began studying ALS by 2009, the year he died.
Tsoran's vision for increased international collaboration is reflected by his motto, "Hope is stronger than fear." That motto pairs harmoniously with the Philadelphia-based organization's maxim, "Hope is on the horizon."
Notes Jeffrey Deitch, the local foundation's managing director, the project's aim is to bring in $200,000, half for funding the research award, the other half "to support clinical programs of the ALS Hope Foundation and overseas at IsrALS."
He notes: "The cause of ALS and path to a cure are still unknown, and there is no known way to prevent it. To tackle this complex disease anywhere in the world, we need to combine the expertise of outstanding scientific communities, like those in Philadelphia and Israel."
According to Carmi, it should be added that not long after Tsoran's passing, Israel's Hadassah Hospital responded to this need by establishing the second ALS clinic in Israel.
To learn more about the Tikvah Project, visit: www. ALSHopeFoundation.org/Tikvah/.