ALS seemed to be a faraway thing for me in my early life. The only knowledge I had then was that it is the disease that paralyzed the famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. It was not until the beginning of this year that I got to know more about ALS. I work at Sentrana, a scientific marketing company, and the son of one of our client’s was diagnosed with ALS around February of this year. During his visit to our office, although he was just in the early stages of the disease, I could still feel the difficulty both he and his mother were going through dealing with such a severe illness. But I was inspired by their optimistic attitude and courage to fight ALS. From our conversations with them, we learned that there was ALS data available, but little had been done to use modern data analysis tools to better understand ALS. Several months later, it was a very fortuitous opportunity that we found the ALS Prediction Prize challenge. My colleague, Luixia Wang, PhD, and I thought it would be meaningful to apply the mathematical/statistical tools we used in our daily business to try to contribute to solving this problem.
From then on, as we explored more about the ALS Prediction Prize challenge and the background information about the disease itself, we felt more and more empathy for those patients who suffer from the disease. The most encouraging part about the challenge was not only just how accurate the prediction algorithm we have created is, but even more about how so many minds could work together and so many efforts could be devoted to the domain of developing treatments and a cure for ALS. The winning of the challenge is a new start, rather than the end for my journey of exploration with ALS. My ability to contribute to the discovery of the disease mechanism may be very limited since I am not a clinical expert. Nevertheless, I believe I can be very involved and effective by working to raise the general public’s awareness about ALS so that more people know about the challenges and need for a treatment and cure for the disease. If more funds are raised, more brain power will be invested in researching ALS, and there is no doubt we can expect a brighter future for all ALS patients.
Humans have overcome and defeated many fatal diseases which seemed incurable at the beginning. I am confident that with so many people in the fight to make a difference, the victory day for ALS patients will eventually come in the near future.