History of the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center

The official establishment of the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center was in 1987.

In the 70's Dr. Lewis P. Rowland began treating ALS patients and continues to treat them today. Erroneous claims of benefits from new ALS "therapies" made it clear that controlled clinical trials were needed in ALS. When Dr. Rowland became chair of Neurology at Columbia in 1973, he was a pioneer in the organization of clinical trails.

In 1982, Dr. Dale J. Lange became a member of the Neurology faculty at Columbia and he, too, became involved in the treatment of ALS, including controlled trials. Together Drs. Lange and Rowland were able to increase the number of patients treated. In the mid 80's, Dr. Lange collaborated with investigators at Baylor University to design a trial of cyclosporine in treating ALS. To coordinate the Columbia effort in that trial, Dr. Lange recruited Tae Sook Kim, RN, MS, who served as Clinical Research Nurse. Together, they established an ALS support group that has served patients and families ever since.

In 1987, there was enough growth in patient numbers and research to establish a center. We had the assistance of Mr. George Pollack, Esq. the lawyer for Mrs. Eleanor Gehrig, widow of the noted baseball player. He was also the Executor of her estate. On her behalf, Mr. Pollack gave Columbia the legal right to name the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig ALS Research Center.

Within a few months in 1987, the Muscular Dystrophy Association named five MDA/ALS Centers (Columbia, Baylor, Southern California, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts General Hospital.) Drs. Rowland and Lange were co-directors of the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Research Center at Columbia.

In 1988, Ms. Peregrine L. Murphy was completing a residency in Pastoral Care at the hospital and joined with Ms. Kim in leading the support group for ALS patients. In November 1989, Ms. Kim and Dr. Lange helped to organize a trial of selegeline. By this time, Ms. Kim had left the Center and Ms. Murphy began to guide the patients through the maze of consultants needed for patient care. She also organized a patient database that served as the basis of studies that would improve the quality of life for patients with the support of Project Death in America and the Fetzer Institute. In time, the center gained other financial support from private foundations, biotechnical companies and the MDA. At this time, additional professional services were required to support clinical research activities and Mrs. Maura Del Bene, RN was hired as the clinical research nurse to assist Ms. Murphy. Ms. Murphy then left the center in 1996 to pursue a doctoral degree in cognitive neuroscience and was succeeded by Mrs. Del Bene.

In 1999, Dr. Lange moved to Mt. Sinai Medical Center to become head of the Division of Neuromuscular Disease. Mrs. Del Bene had by then completed her advanced practice degree as a psychiatric nurse practitioner and was designated Co-Director with Dr. Rowland. The Center continued to develop its multidisciplinary care team focused in medical-psychosocial and palliative care of the ALS patient and their family as well as conducting several clinical trials in ALS.

In fall of 1999, Dr. Hiroshi Mitsumoto, a world renowned expert on ALS, was recruited from the Cleveland Clinic to become Director of the Center.

By that time, the center was comprehensively caring for more than 300 new patients annually. Investigators at the center conduct clinical trials and publish 5-10 papers a year on medical aspects of ALS. Dr. Rowland retired as Chair of the Department in 1998 and has remained an active member of the center, which continues to expand under the direction of Dr. Mitsumoto.