It has been more than a decade since scientists proved that ALS is not simply a disease of motor neurons, but that other cells in the neighbourhood around them could play an active role in the disease process. A series of intricate experiments demonstrated that genetically ‘turning off’ ALS in mouse motor neurons at various time points did not stop the disease from happening and other work showed that making ALS mutations in motor neurons alone wasn’t sufficient to cause disease either. Predominantly, non-motor neuron research in ALS has focused on a set of support cells called astrocytes and inflammatory/immune cells called microglia, but a number of other cell types, including inflammatory cells from outside the CNS, have also been implicated in various experiments. Dr. Fabio Rossi of University of British Columbia aims to revolutionize our knowledge of inflammatory changes in ALS using a novel technique called mass cytometry where cells can be sorted and identified in a complex mixture. Ultimately, in collaboration with Dr. Charles Krieger of Simon Fraser University and Dr. Ryan Brinkman of UBC, Dr. Rossi aims to identify an “inflammatory signature” in the blood of ALS patients and compare it with the blood of spouses to control for environmental influences. What is especially unique is that the power of this technique allows them to examine circulating cells in “38 dimensional space”. This means they can detect different cells with precision based on their levels of 38 different markers as opposed to previous studies that measured a maximum of 14. The hope is then that these signatures can be examined for correlation to disease progression in ALS. Furthermore, by defining the subtypes of inflammatory cells circulating in the disease, we will not only potentially learn more about the process leading to motor neuron degeneration, but will likely discover novel targets for therapy.