UAMS Dedicates ALS Research Center to Thomas May

By Kevin Rowe

LITTLE ROCK – The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) today dedicated laboratories where researchers are working toward new treatments for a crippling neurodegenerative disease. 


The J. Thomas May Center for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Research, named for a Pine Bluff banker diagnosed with the disease, has a focus on translational medicine, meaning that it seeks to move new treatments quickly from the laboratory to the clinic. The new center includes three laboratories, scientists and staff devoted to ALS research.


The center is supported by more than $1 million in gifts to UAMS from friends and colleagues of May, who is chairman and chief executive officer of Simmons First National Corp. in Pine Bluff and Simmons First National Bank.


“Translational research is the heart and soul of this center as we seek new drug therapies for ALS,” said John P. Crow, Ph.D., director of the new center and a professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the UAMS College of Medicine. “We are energized by the love and support shown Mr. May by his friends in supporting this center. Their gifts directly support active research, allowing us to do work that could not be done through traditional funding mechanisms.”


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) is a neurodegeneration disease that typically strikes otherwise healthy people and robs them of all voluntary muscle function, Crow said. Once symptoms begin, it usually progresses rapidly and has no effective treatment, he said.


Currently, UAMS researchers are testing combinations of agents to find an effective drug “cocktail.” Crow said they are looking at drugs that are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, combined with substances derived from dietary supplements – so-called “nutraceuticals.”


“We are systematically seeking out combinations that have additive effects by testing agents individually, and then combining those that have small effects, in the hope of getting additive or synergistic effects,” Crow said. “Both basic scientists and neurologists in the ALS field agree that this approach has the greatest potential for finding a treatment in the short-term – until the “magic bullet” can be found to treat ALS.”


Two California-based drug companies are continuing formal drug development on two compounds first identified by Crow in 2003. Both of these compounds dramatically enhanced survival of ALS mice and preserved near-normal muscle function when administered at the onset of the disease. 


However, Crow said, development of totally new, experimental drugs requires lengthy and costly safety testing prior to use in ALS patients. By utilizing drugs and compounds that have already been tested for safety in humans, Crow and his colleagues hope to greatly accelerate the process of getting new treatments to patients.


UAMS also is home to an MDA/ALS clinic, led by Stacy Rudnicki, M.D., a professor of neurology in the UAMS College of Medicine. The multidisciplinary clinic serves patients from across the state.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,652 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. Visit