Dr. Beard Earns Prize for Research on ALS and Veterans

Dr. Beard Earns Research Prize


Dr. John Beard, an assistant professor in the BYU Department of Public Health, recently received the 2018 PLOS Veterans Disability & Rehabilitation Research Channel Prize for his research article; “Military service, deployments, and exposures in relation to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis survival”.


The research focus of the article was on ALS in veterans and how long they survive after diagnosis. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. When the motor neurons die, the brain can no longer trigger muscle movement. ALS symptoms include difficulty speaking, swallowing, breathing, and movement of limbs. The cause is still unknown. A person with ALS typically lives two to three years after diagnosis, though there are exceptions such as the famed theoretical physicist and author Stephen Hawking, who lived more than 50 years after his diagnosis.


Dr. Beard’s paper was one of the first papers to evaluate associations between ALS survival and military-related characteristics, such as branch of service, wars of deployment, and an extensive list of what soldiers might have been exposed to during their military service. Among other findings, the study found serving in World War II, serving before 1950, and being exposed to burning agents (such as napalm) were associated with shorter survival after ALS diagnosis.


Dr. Beard’s interest in neurological disorders sprouted at a young age from diagnoses within his own family. He hopes his research will accelerate finding the cause of and treatments for ALS so that people with ALS can live longer after they are diagnosed.


Dr. Beard is grateful for the many mentors and professors, like the recently retired Dr. Gene Cole, who provided him with research opportunities as a student. “Students who are interested in research or in learning research skills should take advantage of the many opportunities BYU offers to gain experience” advises Dr. Beard. “The best ways to gain quality experience are to work with a professor on research, help publish a paper, or complete an internship.”


Dr. Beard hopes to continue his research on ALS and veterans. He is working on analyzing additional data sets to identify risk and prognostic factors for ALS. For more information on Dr. Beard’s research article, please visit the following link: http://researchnews.plos.org/2018/07/09/the-military-and-motor-neuron-disease/