Making a Difference
Realizing a Dream To Find the Causes of ALSNot long after Eric “Rip” Wieler ’54 lost his wife, Patty, to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1988, he received a questionnaire from someone conducting a research project to determine the cause of ALS. He filled it out and never heard any more about it, yet the idea remained in his mind for over a decade. “Many physicians have searched for possible cures for ALS without even knowing what causes the disease,” Wieler says. “I have long sought the proper environment to sponsor a project that uses advanced analysis techniques to properly search for the most likely causes of ALS.”When he returned to Rensselaer for his 50th reunion, Wieler says, “I was introduced to the great things that were happening at RPI. It occurred to me that this might be the place.” Less than a year later, he recalls, “I met Dr. Jackson at a luncheon for 50-year alumni in Florida, and I broached the subject to her. She was very supportive and referred me to the provost at RPI. It took some time, but we finally got a team together to do what we are now doing.”
Researchers in the Social and Behavioral Research Lab are leading a study to investigate potential environmental, lifestyle, and medical variables that may contribute to the onset of ALS.
Today, Wieler has provided the seed funds to begin the Patricia Wieler Memorial ALS project. Researchers in Rensselaer’s Social and Behavioral Research Lab (SBRL) are leading a study to investigate potential environmental, lifestyle, and medical variables that may contribute to the onset of ALS. Through a national survey constructed with the help of an advisory panel consisting of leading public health officials, biologists, and neuroscientists, the SBRL hopes to contribute to an emerging body of research into potential causes of ALS.“By combining the survey research expertise of the SBRL with the biological science, computational, and data-mining skills of Rensselaer researchers, we hope to bring a new approach that will uncover paths to more effective treatments for this disease,” says James Watt, director of the SBRL and project administrator.
Wieler graduated from high school in 1950 at the age of 16. He was too young to enlist in the Korean War that had just begun, but he used a New York state scholarship to enter Rensselaer, and immediately joined the Naval ROTC program. Knowing his scholarship alone would not support him beyond that first year, Wieler took a competitive NROTC exam for an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, for which there were to be only 10 appointments from 52 colleges across the country. He earned a place at Annapolis and graduated in 1955, took a commission in the Marine Corps and spent 20 years serving all over the United States and Far East.
“I graduated from high school very young,” Wieler says. “My year at RPI allowed me to catch up. Some of my best friends today date back to my time in the NROTC and on the basketball team, freshman dorms in ‘Tin Town,’ and in the labs at RPI. I entered the Naval Academy as the third-youngest member of my class, but my year at RPI made me far more mature than my classmates. For that I have always been very grateful to RPI.”
Wieler’s support of this study supports the $1.4 billion Renaissance at Rensselaer capital campaign.