“Increase your caloric intake.”

This is the number one recommendation that a clinician will make to a person recently diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. A high calorie diet is linked to better outcomes for ALS patients, but the question is – why? And what is the optimum diet to slow progression of the disease?

ALS Research Forum May 2023
From left to right: Azrieli Future Leader in Canadian Brain Research Chantelle Sephton, ALS Society of Canada Vice President Research Dave Taylor, Brain Canada CEO Viviane Poupon, ALS Canada – Brain Canada Discovery Grant recipients Jasna Kriz and Alex Parker at the ALS Research Forum in Toronto in May.

Dr. Chantelle Sephton and her research team are seeking answers to these questions in mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells. Mitochondrial health is severely affected in people with ALS and in animal models of the disease.

Dr. Sephton and her team are studying the impact of a ketogenic diet low in carbohydrates and high in fats on mitochondria in the brains and spinal cords of mice with ALS. Their preliminary findings indicate that mice with ALS respond positively to a ketogenic diet, possibly because of restored mitochondrial activity.

She is now working to better understand the mechanism behind this finding in the lab and exploring the possibility of a translational study to test the findings in the clinic. Dr. Sephton is an active member of the scientific ALS community and local ALS community in Quebec, and in summer 2023, she extended her role to include advocacy work as a member of the ALS Society of Canada Board of Directors.

“This project never would have found feet without my Future Leader funding. All the data that we generated, that we’re now building on in various new and parallel projects, would not have been possible.”

Dr. Chantelle Sephton, Azrieli Future Leader in Canadian Brain Research

What’s the impact?

The unfortunate reality is that most individuals with ALS die within 2 to 5 years after diagnosis. The idea of using diet to slow the progression of ALS – specifically Dr. Sephton’s finding that a ketogenic diet restores energy balance in a mouse model of the disease – is a promising proof of concept that brings hope for altering the outlook after diagnosis.

This concept of switching a diet and restoring mitochondrial number is not only new to the ALS field, but also to our understanding of what a diet can do as a therapeutic approach.

“Honestly, Brain Canada has filled a big chasm in the landscape of funding for next generation scientists.”

More on Dr. Chantelle Sephton’s research