Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare disease in which the body’s neurons that control voluntary muscles begin to degenerate. Patients experience muscle weakening and involuntary spasticity, as well as symptoms such as muscle cramps and stiffness, and eventually, difficulty moving, speaking, swallowing, and breathing.
While there is currently no cure for the devastating illness, there are drugs that can increase the quality of life and marginally slow the disease’s progression. Researchers have long been pursuing a more effective treatment for the disease, and efforts were increased significantly as a result of the 2014 viral Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised at least $115 million for research efforts.
Stem Cell Therapy for ALS
One area that’s of particular interest to researchers is regenerative medicine therapy. Also known as stem cell therapy, this option could be a potential treatment for ALS, as it could help sustain and nurture motor neurons that have been compromised by the disease. This is due to stem cells’ ability to release neurotrophic factors, which support and protect nerve cells. This is not a cure, nor a guarantee, but is an option to help slow down the progression of the condition.
Stem cells can be harvested from sources such as the umbilical cord (Wharton’s Jelly), or the patient’s own adipose (fat) tissue, then strategically transplanted at locations such as the spinal canal, intravenous, or muscle tissue. Once in the brain tissues, stem cells have the potential to protect healthy neurons and replace those that have been compromised.
Experts are using stem cells both for research purposes, by creating cells genetically identical to patients to see how they’ll respond to treatments, as well as for treating patients directly. With their protective qualities, the cells can help preserve healthy cells and repair or replace those that have been damaged.
According to results from clinical trials, 87% of patients who received the treatment responded to the treatment with at least 25% improvement and slowed disease progression. Evidence also suggests the treatment is safe and well-tolerated.
While much of how ALS develops remains a mystery, researchers are hopeful that further investigation into stem cell therapy will help to drastically improve treatment outcomes compared to the drugs currently available. If you would like to learn more contact a care coordinator today!