Welcome to Dr. Mark Garret, our newest faculty at the Healey & AMG Center for ALS. Dr. Garret received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania followed by a neurology residency and neuromuscular fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. During his fellowship, Dr. Garret participated in multiple clinical trials of targeted genetic therapies for inherited forms of ALS. Dr. Garret has also served as a lecturer to residents and fellows at Washington University, working in both the Neuromuscular and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation sections. Dr. Garret has presented academic research on advances in treatments for familial ALS and pre-symptomatic therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.
- Your training at Washington University in St. Louis focused on neuromuscular disease, and inherited ALS specifically-what drew you to that specialty? By the time patients with ALS or other rare neuromuscular diseases reach our office, they have often seen multiple physicians and subspecialists and gone many months without a diagnosis. I empathized with their desire to understand the cause of their symptoms. During residency and fellowship, I was drawn to ALS after being struck by the incredible courage and resiliency of ALS patients and the dedication and compassion of their caregivers and family members. It’s a truly remarkable community of individuals and I am privileged to interact with them on a daily basis. My focus on the minority of patients who develop ALS due to inherited gene mutations started during fellowship when I had the opportunity to work on clinical trials treating patients with ALS due to mutations in the SOD1, C9orf72, and FUS genes. I wanted to make sure that patients and families affected by these genetic forms of ALS have access to better treatments in the future.
- What does it mean to you to be part of the Sean M. Healey & AMG Center for ALS?
I am tremendously excited to join the Healey Center. I have known about the Healey Center for many years as a leader in ALS research, but what I could not appreciate from the outside was the incredible dedication of the entire Healey Center team to our ALS patients and the broader ALS community. At every level, from our coordinators to our physicians, I have been struck by our team's passion and willingness to go above and beyond for our patients. The combination of cutting-edge research together with an empathic, patient-focused approach is rare. I look forward to learning from my exceptional colleagues and, hopefully, playing a role in advancing ALS research towards a cure for this disease.
- You are now working with the Dominantly Inherited ALS Network (DIALS), an ongoing study of asymptomatic carriers of familial ALS. What can we expect from DIALS in the coming months?
In DIALS, we follow gene carriers who have a high likelihood of developing ALS in the future with the goal of identifying blood or spinal fluid biomarkers that may help us detect ALS at earlier stages when treatment is likely to be more effective. Ultimately, we hope that information we learn from the DIALS study can allow us to “prevent” ALS by starting treatments before an individual ever develops symptoms of the disease. We are currently in the process of combining forces with the ALS Families study at Columbia University, another study of ALS gene carriers. This merger to form THE “PREVENT ALS” initiative will double the number of participants in our study and allow us to move closer towards pre-symptomatic treatments for ALS.
- What is your approach to patient care?
I view patient care as a partnership. While I aim to provide the most up to date information and treatments to my patients, my goal is to treat each patient as an individual and work with them to achieve their goals. For some patients, that means connecting them with clinical trials and other research opportunities. For others, it may mean focusing on treating symptoms and on maximizing quality of life. Most of all, I want to make sure that my patients know that I will listen to their questions and their concerns, communicate honestly, and treat them with respect.
- Do you have reasons to be hopeful about new treatments and cures for ALS?
I’m very hopeful. While improvements in ALS therapies can’t come quickly enough, this is a period of great progress. Over the last year, we seen the approval of two new FDA-approved medications for ALS that slow progression of disease, advances driven by physicians and researchers here at the Healey Center. I am especially excited for the future of targeted therapies for patients with inherited forms of ALS and look forward to a future where we can hopefully stop ALS before patients ever develop symptoms.