July 24, 1997
Media Contact: Michael Purdy
Orioles pitcher Jimmy Key recently donated half of his $50,000 All-Star bonus to the Cal Ripken/Lou Gehrig fund for Neuromuscular Research at Johns Hopkins University.
Key's wedding plans interfered with the All-Star schedule, so he gave half the bonus to Clemson University, his alma mater, and half to the fund at Hopkins, which supports research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neuromuscular diseases.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ended the beloved Yankee's career and later killed him. It is an incurable, fatal disease that slowly kills motor nerve cells, the nerve cells that control muscles. Doctors estimate that about one out of every 800 men and one out of every 1200 women alive today will eventually die from the disease.
"The Ripken/Gehrig Research Fund has been providing critical support to efforts at Hopkins to understand and treat this disease and other similar disorders, and we're very grateful for Jimmy Key's generous donation," says Ralph Kuncl, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of neurology who administers the Ripken Fund.
With help from the Ripken/Gehrig Research Fund, Kuncl and approximately 20 other Hopkins scientists are studying a variety of potential causes of and treatments for ALS.
"We're continuing, for example, to look at glutamate transporter proteins, which normally deactivate and recycle glutamate, a chemical nerve cells use to send messages to each other," says Jeffrey Rothstein, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology.
Before the funds' creation, Rothstein and Kuncl showed that many ALS patients have low levels of one such protein, EAAT2, creating an excess of glutamate that kills nerves in the brain and the spinal cord that control muscles. The work was an important contributor to the first treatment to benefit ALS patients, a drug called riluzole. If researchers can find the causes of glutamate transporter protein deficits, it may give them new leads for diagnosing and treating ALS.
"No matter what the cause of ALS, however, the Ripken fund has helped spur research on new growth factors and other protective drugs that can allow motor nerve cells to survive in ALS," according to Andrea Corse, M.D., assistant professor of neurology.
The Ripken/Gehrig Research Fund was created by the Orioles and private donors when Ripken broke Gehrig's consecutive-games-played record in September 1995. The Orioles made arrangements to sell 260 special on-the-field seats at Ripken's record-breaking game for $5,000 apiece. A direct donation from the Orioles brought the fund's initial value to $2,000,000. Since then, private donors have given many other smaller donations to the fund. In this year alone, a total of nearly $70,000 had been added to the fund prior to Key's donation.
Note to editors and producers: Hopkins ALS researcher Ralph Kuncl, M.D., Ph.D., and Key are willing to do interviews on this new donation.