Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known more commonly as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a debilitating and progressive neurological disease that affects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. According to the ALS Association, as many as 6,400 new cases annually could be diagnosed in coming years. As such, the urgency to find a cure is growing. That cure might be rooted in stem cell therapy.
Stem cells are the building blocks of human tissue. The body contains different kinds of stem cells that each have a different role to play in replacing lost, damaged, and diseased tissue. In the case of ALS, the goal is to derive stem cell treatments that alleviate symptoms, slow down the progression of the disease, and ultimately reverse it.
We are far from reaching any of those goals, but researchers do have hope that a procedure now being worked on in Germany could be the first step to slowing down the disease in already diagnosed patients. The results of a study recently published in the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Remodeling journal demonstrates limited success in treating laboratory mice with ALS.
Mesenchymal Stem Cell Treatment
The researchers behind the study have been investigating the use of mesenchymal stem cells to treat ALS by way of both intraventricular (injected into the brain) and intraspinal injections. The two procedures produced both favorable and unfavorable results.
As for mesenchymal stem cells, they are a type of stem cell capable of differentiating into multiple types of tissue. They cannot differentiate into any kind of tissue, so they are by no means universal. This requires that the right kinds of stem cells be used to treat ALS. The German researchers chose stem cells taken from the bone marrow of healthy donors.
Those cells were processed and then transplanted into diseased mice according to several different plans. Some of the subjects received placebo while others received single intraventricular injections. Another group received multiple intraventricular injections while yet another group received multiple intraspinal injections.
When all was said and done, the final group showed the most promise. The mice in that group demonstrated a slower progression of ALS with very little impact on overall health. By contrast, the group receiving single intraventricular injections also demonstrated slower disease progression, but their overall health also declined.
The Hope for Future Treatments
It is worth noting that the German researchers did not pull their study out of thin air. Previous studies have suggested similar results in treating ALS with mesenchymal stem cells. The German researchers were simply continuing that line of study.
According to Apex Biologix, a U.S. company that specializes in regenerative medicine equipment and supplies, studies like these offer hope for future treatments for a wide variety of illnesses. The hope for ALS patients is that a mesenchymal stem cell treatment will ultimately slow down the progression of their disease.
Slowing down ALS would give patients the ability to lead more normal lives. It would give them hope of living longer lives as well. In support of this, the German researchers noted that the group of test subjects receiving the intraspinal injections lived longer than each of the other groups in their study.
Science is still a long way off from a marketable stem cell treatment for ALS. But it would appear as though they are on the right track. Thanks to mesenchymal stem cells and their ability to differentiate into various forms of tissue, researchers believe they are on the cusp of a breakthrough. They hope their treatment will one day improve the lives of ALS patients the world over.