April 03, 2001, 11:33 AM — WHEN JAMES HEYWOOD'S brother developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, two years ago, Heywood looked to the Internet to learn more about the debilitating disease. After months of Web searches, however, he concluded that the ALS community was spread too thin. Scientists posted positive findings but produced no therapies and conducted good research but sponsored little development. As Heywood saw it, doctors needed IT to bring them together to coordinate their efforts.
In December 1998, from the basement of his home in Newton, Mass., Heywood formed a nonprofit group called the ALS Therapy Development Foundation, vowing to use technology to connect the people who had the best chances to cure the disease. When Microsoft Project proved inefficient, Heywood sought an alternate product. This led him to San Diego-based Inovie Software, a developer that discounted its TeamCenter business collaboration tool to help facilitate the organization's efforts.
Written in C and C++, it works almost like a project management suite, enabling scientists to exchange research, schedule online meetings and message each other in a chatlike environment. It offers e-mail notification when someone publishes new findings, and it can also be configured as a Web portal that displays the latest ALS news. Heywood says the technology is the perfect enabler for the kind of community he envisions. "When you're conducting real-time work from multiple locations, technology like this is critical," he explains.
Heywood isn't the only one who's been pleasantly surprised. At Inovie, Vice President of Marketing Evan Knuttila says the company has received tremendous positive feedback because of its ALS effort. Knuttila hopes the technology can help facilitate a cure for the disease, which helps keep Heywood optimistic: "I expected to be more depressed about my brother's prospects, but I'm not," he reveals. "I honestly believe it's possible to beat this. With technology on our side, I'd say it's just a matter of time." For more information about ALS, visit www.als-tdf.org.