NC State professor with Lou Gehrig's disease praised for his research into ALS

Barbara Gibbs Image
Friday, May 10, 2019
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The professor is a hero, not just because he researches ALS, but because he has ALS too.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- An NC State professor will be honored and recognized for being an ALS Hero at Saturday's baseball game against Clemson as part of ALS Awareness Month.

The professor is a hero, not just because he researches ALS, but because he has ALS too.

Dr. Michael Bereman was diagnosed in 2015, just three days before his 34th birthday. At the time, he'd been married to his wife Meagan--they were college sweethearts at N.C. State--for six years. Their son, Mason, was just a year old.

Two years before his diagnosis, Bereman accepted a job at his alma mater, running his own lab in the Department of Biological Sciences. It was a proud moment, as his father had also been a professor at N.C. State for 20 years.

Right after he was diagnosed, Bereman stopped all of his projects and started researching ALS.

Dr. Michael Bereman

The first year of his diagnosis, Bereman said there were no symptoms. He said doctors even wondered if he had been misdiagnosed.

His second year came and went just like the first.

The third year, symptoms began to develop.

Now, in 2019, Bereman uses a motorized wheelchair, often requesting assistance from his team of two graduate students. His speech is affected as well.

His love for his family is evident, as Bereman beams when asked about them. Their son, Mason, is 5 and daughter Mille is 2.

Dr. Michael Bereman with his family.

It is a heartbreaking diagnosis that Bereman says could happen to any of us.

"I like to tell people: You and I are equally likely to get ALS," he said.

Ten percent of ALS cases are inherited, the other 90 percent occur seemingly at random. Bereman said that suggests something in the environment could contribute to the disease.

In his lab, they're trying to determine what in the environment, the things we do, consume outside, even encounter in water sports, could play a role in our chances of getting diseases like ALS.

It's something Bereman and his team are passionate about and thanks to two recent grants--$100,000 awarded in January and just last month a $500,000 grant--can continue to research for the next three years.

The first grant from the ALS Association funds a study in mile markers, testing spinal fluid from actual ALS patients.

"Trying to find markers in cerebral spinal fluid" Bereman explains. "Where we can track the progression of the disease." They're also trying to evaluate the efficacy of new drugs.

The second grant funds research into another type of their research: Whether something in the environment contributes to contracting diseases like ALS.

"Just by being outside, by perhaps drinking contaminated water, eating foods with toxins that accumulate in the tissue of seafood...even walking by a lake, swimming in a pond," Bereman's assistant, Rubia Martin, a PhD Toxicology student, said.

Bereman's dream is to be able to develop a test in a clinic to diagnose a patient faster and monitor progression, ultimately leading to a cure.

"I would like to be known for someone who never gave up and fought 'til the very end" he said when asked how he would like to be remembered.

After spending time with Bereman, ABC11's Barbara Gibbs said she knows he will be remembered for that and so much more.