Emory University researchers are participating in a groundbreaking clinical trial to treat patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) using human neural stem cells.
“This is the first U.S. clinical trial of stem cell injections into the spinal cord for the treatment of ALS,” says principal researcher Jonathan Glass, professor of neurology in the School of Medicin, and director of the Emory ALS Center. “Our main goal in this early phase is to determine whether it is safe to inject stem cells into the spinal cord and whether the cells themselves are safe.”
Three patients with ALS have received injections since the trial began in January. Up to twelve individuals will be enrolled at in this phase of the trial.
Nicholas Boulis, assistant professor of neurosurgery I the School of Medicine and a pioneer in developing surgical methods for delivery of therapeutics to the spinal cord, is performing the surgical procedures.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease with no known cure. It causes the deterioration of specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called motor neurons that control muscle movement. As the illness progresses, patients lose their ability to walk, talk, and breathe. According to the ALS Association, approximately 30,000 Americans have ALS at any given time and patients with the disease usually die within two to five years of diagnosis.
The stem cells used in the study may have the ability to mature into various types of cells in the nervous system, including the motor neurons lost because of ALS. They will not generate new motor neurons, but may help protect the still-functioning neurons and slow the progression of the disease.