NeurologyLive® Clinician of the Month Spotlight: Merit Cudkowicz, MD, MSc

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As part of our monthly clinician spotlight, NeurologyLive® highlighted neuromuscular disorder expert Merit Cudkowicz, MD, MSc, chair of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Merit Cudkcowitz MD, MSc  (Credit: Massachusetts General Hospital)

Merit Cudkcowitz MD, MSc

(Credit: Massachusetts General Hospital)

Neurologists are highly trained medical professionals who play a critical role in the healthcare system in helping patients of all ages manage their conditions that can affect every aspect of their lives. Each month, NeurologyLive® shines a spotlight on the work of one neurologist, highlighting contributions to their specific field.

According to a recent announcement, The ALS Association is having its inaugural ALS Nexus Conference, taking place July 14-17, 2024, at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Conference Center in Dallas, Texas.1 The conference aims to bring together researchers, healthcare professionals, advocates, and patients with ALS to foster connections, spark innovation, and collectively shape the future of ALS. Sessions there will highlight innovative solutions and underscore the value of interdisciplinary collaboration. In addition, attendees can look forward to the 10th Anniversary Ice Bucket Challenge event at the Gaylord Paradise Springs Water Park where up to 400 guests will take the plunge.

Merit Cudkowicz, MD, MSc, chair of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), will participate as a speaker at the conference in part 1 of the fireside chat session. In a recent conversation NeurologyLive, she shared her excitement for the upcoming conference to discuss ALS with Calaneet Balas, MBA, the president and CEO at The ALS Association, such as the state of the field, new directions, and anything else that people might be interested in during the session.

In honor of ALS Awareness Month, Cudkowicz also shared what motivated her to specialize in neurology and focus on neurological disorders like ALS. She additionally talked about how she balances her clinical responsibilities with your research and administrative duties. Furthermore, Cudkowicz talked about the advancements in neurology she is the most excited about, and how they may impact her work in ALS.

Clinical Facts About ALS

  • Most patients who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70 years, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis. However, cases of the disease are also reported among patients in their 20s and 30s.
  • ALS is 20% more common in men than women; however, with increasing age, the incidence of ALS is more equal between them.
  • Approximately 90% of ALS cases happen without any known family history or genetic cause. The remaining 5% to 10% of cases are inherited through a mutated gene with a known connection to the condition.
REFERENCES
1. Understanding ALS. The ALS Association. Accessed May 23, 2024. https://www.als.org/understanding-als

NeurologyLive: What are some of the main responsibilities you have in your role as a neurologist?

I care for patients living with ALS—I see patients in clinic – and help with diagnosis, care management and also with options for clinical trials. We work as a multidisciplinary team—of care providers and researchers to provide complete care and options for patients with ALS. I am also chair of neurology at MGH, and in that role I support and mentor other neurologists and neuroscience nurses and advanced practice providers. We ensure that paatients who come to our hospital have great care and access to the best research options. We also educate and train doctors who want to become neurologists.

Could you describe a typical day in your work as a neurologist?

I see patients with ALS in the clinic once a week. On that day, I may see patients for the first time (new diagnosis) and others in follow-up. On the other days; I work on research and administration.

What motivated you to pursue a career in neurology, and when did you make this decision?

I loved neuroscience—even back in high school! But my true passion for neurology grew when I was a medical student and then as a resident. I was attracted to the field because of the great need to help patients living with serious illness that affect how they think, move, and feel. There are many neurological disorders that are without cures—and I wanted to work on some of these to try to make a difference for patients and their families.

What do you find most rewarding about your work as a neurologist?

Working as a community to tackle challenging diagnosis and situations. I love to collaborate, bring people together—and to work as one to help patients with ALS and other neurological disorders—and to try to break down barriers and accelerate progress. I love the patients I care for and their families, and my colleagues in the field.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role? 

There is an urgency to find better ways to help patients with neurological disorders—at many levels- from access to care, to access to trials—to the development of better and truly effective treatments. There are inherent barriers to efficiency and speed—and these challenges I try to tackle—whether it is setting up a platform trial, making master contracts and single IRBs, or advocacy for funding or decision speed.

Is there something that you wish more patients and clinicians at your clinic understood about the field?

Neurology is at a major inflection point. We have much better tools to study the brain, to understand it, to model disease, and to develop better treatments. It is a very exciting field, and there is always, always, something we can do to help patients living with a brain disease. There is hope, and there are many people working on brain diseases and who care. We need more funding—and more people in the field!

In addition to your work as a neurologist, what other hobbies or interests do you have outside of the clinic?

I love my family, of course! I have 2 children (who are both in graduate school now) and a wonderful husband. I love to be with friends and just talk and hang out. I took up soccer when I turned 50—and I love to play pick-up and be on a team with my soccer buddies! I also love to garden. I am thinking of taking up piano again; a hobby I loved in my teens and 20s.

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Presented at the 2024 American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual Meeting, held April 13-18, in Denver, Colorado, by Cudkowicz, PrimeC (NeuroSense), an investigational ALS agent, achieved its primary safety and tolerability end points along with secondary clinical efficacy end points at the 6-month timepoint in the phase 2b PARADIGM study (NCT0535790).2 At the meeting, Cudkowicz sat down with NeurologyLive to discuss the primary drugs used in the combination therapy of PrimeC, and why they were chosen for the ALS treatment. In addition, she talked about the key findings of the phase 2b study regarding safety, clinical effects, and biomarkers. She also spoke about the expectations and plans for the upcoming phase 3 trial of PrimeC for ALS.

Transcript edited for clarity. Click here for more coverage on neuromuscular diseases.

REFERENCES
1. The ALS Association Announces Inaugural 'ALS Nexus' Conference. News Release. The ALS Association. Published March 22, 2024. Accessed May 23, 2024. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-als-association-announces-inaugural-als-nexus-conference-302097321.html
2. Cudkowicz M, Chio A, Lunetta C, et al. PrimeC, An Oral Candidate for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Meets Primary Safety and Secondary End Points in the Phase 2b PARADIGM Trial. Presented at: 2024 AAN Annual Meeting; April 13-18; Denver, CO.

Registration for the 2024 ALS Nexus Conference is now open! The meeting is set to be held at The Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center, in Dallas, Texas, from July 14 to 17, 2024. To register and for more information, head to www.als.org/als-nexus

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