Dr. Michael Strong: Science and medicine in the family genes


Lucille Ball famously said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” The axiom applies to Dr. Michael Strong.  The title on his business card reads:  Dean, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Distinguished University Professor, Professor, Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences, Arthur J Hudson Chair in ALS Research, Interim Scientific Director, Robarts Research Institute. Don’t forget to add, husband and father of three children. And you thought your life was busy.

Dr. Strong seems to have inherited his interest in science and medicine. His dad was a microbiologist and teacher and his mum a nurse.  Dr. Strong remembers well when he became fascinated with the brain and how it works. He was in grade 13 at Leamington District Secondary School.  His science teacher Dr. Prem Nanda, allowed students to do an extra science project (just for fun).  Michael conducted studies on the brain under the tutelage of a pathologist with the local hospital.

For the past 20 years he has remained captivated by how the brain works particularly the brains of people afflicted by ALS.  He admits a bit of frustration because research isn’t further ahead. However, he says research is moving faster thanks to the significant advances in science and technology, in example, microscopes so powerful you can study cells at a subcellular level, changes in genetics and powerful new animals models.  These tools didn’t exist when he started studying the disease. He says with every advance scientists open a door and learn a little more and this process is accelerating.

He is also gratified to see so many talented young people interested in dedicating their lives to medical research; his daughter Jennifer chief among them. She’s in England just starting her PhD at the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience. She’s working with Dr. Pamela Shaw. The focus of the research is ALS. Like father like daughter?

Latest Project: MicroRNA – A New Player in ALS Research?

A lot has been discovered in recent years linking ALS to abnormalities in regulation of RNA (geneticinformation that can move around inside cells).

There are several types of RNA that have different jobs related to the health and well-being of the living cell (cells are tiny living compartments that make up all of our organs). One type of RNA is called microRNA (miRNA). These are tiny RNAs that have an important role in maintaining the proper functioning of other RNA that function to make cells work properly.

In a new study from the lab of Dr. Michael Strong at the Robarts Research Institute, University of Western Ontario, changes in the levels of miRNA were examined in spinal cord from individuals who had sporadic ALS and compared with those who did not have ALS (controls). The results, published in the journal Molecular Brain, demonstrate that a large number of miRNA are altered in ALS and in particular, three that are involved in regulation of the RNA that creates neurofilament light (NFL), a structural component of neurons that has previously been implicated in the disease. This follows up on recent work from Dr. Strong’s lab identifying a new mutation in a regulator of NFL (called RGNEF) as cause of familial ALS and further demonstrates that proper regulation of NFL could be crucial to our understanding of what causes the disease.

(Article from the ALS Society of Canada)

If you missed Dr. Strong’s conference held March 19, click here for the recording and summary.