Stem cells step forward in ALS

A consortium of researchers from across the U.S. has taken a step forward in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) by transplanting neural stem cells into mice and slowing the paralysis caused by this lethal and incurable neurodegenerative disease.

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ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, gradually takes away the ability to move by damaging nerve cells in the spinal cord. There is only one approved treatment, Sanofi-Aventis' Rilutek (riluzole), which does slow the progress of the disease.

Looking at the results of 11 separate and independent studies in which nerve stem cells were transplanted into the spinal column of mice with ALS, the researchers found that the stem cells cut the symptoms and slowed the course of the disease. They prolonged the survival of the mice to three or four times the life span of the untreated mice with ALS, and the animals also had better motor function (ability to control movement) and were able to breathe more easily.

However, there was more happening here than just replacing dud cells with working cells. The transplanted cells produced factors that supported the existing cells and protected them against damage, and reduced inflammation. The transplanted stem cells also reduced the number of diseased neural stem cells.

These findings could lead to potential treatments for ALS and for other neurodegenerative disorders, and the researchers are confident about the outcomes of the study. Senior author Evan Snyder of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute's stem cell and regenerative biology program said in a press release: "While not a cure for human ALS, we believe that the careful transplantation of neural stem cells, particularly into areas that can best sustain life--respiratory control centers, for example--may be ready for clinical trials."

- read the press release
- see the abstract

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