Rare Disease Report

Are Military Veterans at Greater Risk of Getting ALS?

OCTOBER 30, 2017
James Radke
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Schretzman was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 48 in 2015.

After 24 years in the army, including 4 tours of duty in Afghanastan and a stint as starting linebacker for West Point Football Team, Schretzman retired in October 2014. Seven months later, he was diagnosed with ALS.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal, neurodegenerative condition in which the function of patients’ motor neurons fails. Patients with the condition gradually lose the ability to move, speak, swallow, and breathe. Death is usually expected within 3-5 years of diagnosis.

Schretzman’s story is the first in a series of videos sponosered by Cytokinetics called “Behind ALS”.  The series is intended to bring awareness to ALS and some of the research being done to help ALS patients moving forward.

Since his diagnosis, Schretzman and his wife Stacy formed Team Schretzman to support ALS research and attempt to help finance Schretzman’s medical costs. Additionally, Schretzman receives support from The ALS Association’s Central & Southern Ohio Chapter.
Military veterans appear to be more likely to develop ALS than the general population. A review of the literature by the Institute of Health found that 4 of the 5 studies looking at the prevalence of ALS in military veterans found the retired soldiers to be at higher risk for developing ALS. Three of the studies indicated that veterans were twice as likely to get ALS compared to the general population while a 4th study saw a 1.5 increased risk. A 5th study found no difference in the prevalence of ALS in mititary veterans compared to the general population.

There are currently about 30,000 Americans with ALS with about 5,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.
The only treatment currently approved for the disease is Radicava (edaravone), which is capable of slowing the progression of the disease. Cytokinetics, the sponsor of the video series, is currently testing tirasemtiv, a fast skeletal muscle troponin activator, in a phase 3 clinical trial. Results of that trial are expected in the 4th quarter of 2017.  

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