Eric Carl Schwarz
1973 – 2018
We must with great sadness report that Eric, for whom
this Foundation was named, has passed away.
Eric loved to swim, especially at Wood’s Cove in Laguna Beach, where he grew up.
Even after being diagnosed with ALS just over a year ago, Eric continued to come down to the sea …
he loved the water, was an avid surfer, and enjoyed reliving memories of a happy childhood in this magical place.
On September 11, 2018, Eric—weakened by ALS—drowned. Lifeguards and paramedics, and the staff at
Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, did everything possible to revive him, but to no avail.
Eric’s sunny and upbeat spirit, and his kindness and consideration for others, will always be
remembered with great fondness by his family and friends. He leaves behind his beloved
wife Lauren, and two little daughters, Harper and Saylor, aged 4 and 2.
“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
that all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliette
After being diagnosed with ALS in late 2017,
Eric and his family visited New York, and were treated
to a tour of Staten Island and New York Harbor with
great generosity by the New York Fire Department.
Thank you, NYFD!
I was born on March 25, 1973, in Laguna Beach, California, the youngest son of Carl Schwarz and Jean Ranney, and brother to Stephen Schwarz and Lisa Schwarz. I attended Top of the World Elementary School, Thurston Middle School, and Laguna Beach High School before going to the University of California at Berkeley. After graduating in 1995 with a major in Environmental Science, I found great joy in managing people and developing sales teams, first in the tech industry, then with various retail companies, and more recently as a General Manager for 24 Hour Fitness. My entire life has been centered in some way or another around fitness and the outdoors: martial arts, ocean swimming, hiking, snowboarding, and surfing. And so to have finally found a rewarding career with 24 Hour Fitness—working with teams and with individuals passionate about health—has been extremely satisfying and fulfilling. It fits who I am.
On April 21, 2012, I married Lauren Sullivan, and we now have two gorgeous girls: Harper aged 4 years; and Saylor, who is now almost 2. We lived for some time in Utah before returning to California two years ago to join 24 Hour Fitness, and also to be closer to our parents, siblings, and close friends.
In August, 2017, I was officially diagnosed with ALS. After extensive research into the disease, my wife Lauren and other family members heard of a new clinical trial being undertaken by the renowned Israeli pharmaceutical company BrainStorm using a stem-cell therapy called NurOwn®. After making further enquiries and undergoing numerous tests, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the clinical trial being conducted at the University of California, Irvine Health Center, under the watchful eye of the study’s chief investigator Dr. Namita Goyal, also Director, ALS Clinic, Neuromuscular Medicine Fellowship and Neuromuscular Diagnostic Laboratory, University of California, Irvine. You can learn more about NurOwn® here.
NurOwn® is a cell therapy platform that builds on the enormous research effort that has gone into developing mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) as a treatment for human diseases. BrainStorm has taken MSCs a step further in developing a therapy customized for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
MSCs are multipotent precursor cells found in many tissues, but most commonly obtained from the bone marrow, adipocytes or placenta. MSCs have been used in human studies since the 1990s, initially to enhance engraftment of bone marrow transplants, but eventually researchers discovered that MSCs are able to tamp down the immune system in a variety of different ways.
This led to their being studied as treatments for a variety of immune and inflammatory diseases, such as graft-versus-host disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, and have been studied in cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, and many other areas – indeed there have been hundreds of clinical trials completed or ongoing for MSCs in various conditions.
With its patented NurOwn® technology, BrainStorm takes MSCs and, by growing them in proprietary conditions, converts them into biological factories secreting a variety of neurotrophic factors (NTFs). NTFs are growth factors known to support the survival of neurons in a variety of conditions, and in animal models of many neurodegenerative diseases.
Bone marrow is aspirated from the patient under local anesthesia in the hospital, a routine and safe procedure that takes about 20 minutes and is performed routinely. The bone marrow aspirate is sent to the manufacturing facility, where the MSCs are separated from the other cells present, isolated and grown for approximately 2-3 weeks. At this point, the MSCs could be made directly into MSC-NTF cells, or frozen and stored for future doses.
The process of converting MSCs into MSC-NTF cells takes about six days. The cells are grown under Brainstorm’s patented conditions, and are induced to secrete much higher levels of neurotrophic factors. At the end of this process they are harvested, placed into syringes and are ready to be delivered to the patient for administration. Brainstorm’s production process uses no animal-derived products such as fetal calf serum, nor does it use antibiotics during production.
In January, 2018, I had the first bone marrow aspirations from various sites on my hips. And then at the end of February, I received the first of three spinal injections using the NurOwn® process, and have since had one spinal fluid extraction to ascertain the progress of the stem-cell treatment under the parameters of the clinical trial. Over the next six months, I will receive two more spinal injections, and will be closely monitored by the medical staff attached to the clinical trial.
Of course, the huge concern with most clinical trials is that 50% of the participants receive a placebo. And, while I am of course hopeful that I’m not in that category, I firmly believe that my contribution to this amazing research by BrainStorm and stem-cell therapy in general is vital in finding a cure for this devastating disease.
As of December, 2017, I have been on disability and staying at home, spending time with my family while I can still physically do most things. Right after my diagnosis, I’ve been on that roller coaster of emotions one would expect, as have my wife Lauren and my immediate family. Initially, we scrambled to find out as much as we could about the disease and the treatments with which I could get involved. Now that some time has gone by, and while undergoing the Neuron stem-cell therapy trial, we still must prepare for the tough road ahead. As of this writing, we are very much focused on living for the here and now, and our priorities include spending precious time with family, planning fun trips with the kids, and getting the most out of each and every day. Even the hours are precious.
I formed this foundation with three main things in mind:
- To raise funds for ongoing research into finding the causes and a cure for ALS.
- To advocate for and support as best we can those suffering from this horrible disease.
- To help raise public awareness about ALS, and advocate for increased federal assistance.
If you have been diagnosed with ALS, or any motor neuron disease, I would be very happy to talk with you in private or in our public forum, accessible in the menu above, and share knowledge, experiences, and impart, if I am able, some emotional strength. If you’re like me, I’m sure there are times when you feel a deep despair. But always remember how many amazing people out there—scientists and doctors, and those who sponsor their efforts—go to work each and every day, and apply their genius to finding a cure just for ALS. That alone gives us hope, the reason to hold on, and to make the most of what we yet may spend with those we love.
~ Eric Carl Schwarz