Episode 56, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube


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Merit Cudkowicz is a scientist, a doctor, a researcher, and is both the director of the Sean M. Healey and AMG Center for ALS and Chief of Neurology at Mass General Hospital in Boston. During our conversation, Merit talks about her journey to becoming a doctor and provides a definition of ALS, commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." She also discusses her interest in ALS, describes its symptoms and how it affects those who have it, the influence of genes and environment on its development, how one can live to mitigate one's risk of getting ALS, what we don't yet know about its onset, current research to fight the disease, and reasons for hope.

To me, ALS is one of the most terrifying diseases a human being can get: normal psychological and intellectual function as one's body deteriorates, eventually resulting in a total inability to move, swallow, and eventually, breathe. Merit is optimistic about the future of our ability to understand and combat this horrible illness, and if she's correct, it will be because of the hard work, brilliance, and determination of people like her.

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Time Stamps:

(00:00) Introduction
(02:23) Early life and interest in Science and Medicine
(03:45) Building interest in immunology
(04:38) Getting introduced to ALS
(06:35) The experience of witnessing someone go through ALS
(09:28) What is meant by ALS?
(10:43) The most common symptoms of ALS
(11:55) The tests used to diagnose ALS
(12:45) How long ALS has been around in the world
(13:17) Lou Gehrig’s battle with ALS
(14:19) What causes the muscular deterioration leading to ALS?
(17:12) Preventing ALS
(20:22) Probable lifestyle factors causing ALS
(22:59) The appropriate level of stress in humans
(26:11) The influence of an unhealthy lifestyle in causing life-threatening diseases
(28:26) Recommendations for a healthy lifestyle
(31:18) The role of inflammation in causing disease in humans
(33:30) The factors triggering high inflammation levels in humans
(35:57) The future of ALS research and treatment
(39:58) Hope for people with genetic reasons for ALS
(41:55) Identifying the first changes in people with ALS
(43:51) The scope for more robust research around ALS
(46:10) The progress made in our fight against ALS
(47:44) Other ALS researchers to follow
(49:27) Potentially helpful treatment options for ALS
(53:29) Available resources for people with ALS
(56:17) The evolutionary reasons for the existence of ALS
(01:00:57) Using psychedelics to treat ALS
(01:08:23) Merit's inspiration behind getting into ALS research

Connect with Merit:

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