HealthFirst reporter Leslie Toldo shares the story of one of the few people who have had it done.
ALS is a deadly disease, with a quick and devastating decline. This could be the hope thousands of people have been waiting for.
Fifty-five-year-old Tom Elliott is not a quitter. He has ALS and fights to keep up with the daily routines of his life, even as the disease makes everything harder. “Brushing the teeth has become a real chore. Turning and rolling in bed to get comfortable has become an impossibility. This disease is about having to give up and sacrifice a lot.”
As ALS progresses, it destroys the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement until people “cease to be able to move, they become essentially locked in their bodies,” Dr. Nicholas Boulis said.
Boulis and his team at Emory University helped develop an experimental approach to treating ALS by implanting stem cells called human neuro-progenitors directly into the spinal cord. “We want to put those cells right next to those dying motor neurons in the hopes that those cells will provide protection and restoration of function, keep those cells alive, make ’em stronger.”
It’s the first ever U.S. clinical trial of its kind. “I’m optimistic that we can do this safely. I’m optimistic that we’ll have opened the door to a world of opportunities,” Boulis said.
Elliott is one of the first to have stem cells injected into his spinal cord, a procedure with high risk and no promises. Doctors say the stem cells won’t generate new neurons, but may help protect the still functioning motor neurons and slow the progression of the disease.
“Maybe in the near or far future we’ll be able to manage the disease better, and then perhaps one day cure it,” Elliott said.
Meanwhile, he’ll keep fighting as long as he can.
If the stem cell transplant technique works for ALS, researchers say it could open the door for new therapies for spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and other disabling illnesses.
Human stem cells for this ALS study were developed by a Maryland-based biotech company.
- Spinal Cord Injury Patient Treated With Non-Matched Donor Adult Stem Cells Is Walking Again (ducknetweb.blogspot.com)
- Multiple sclerosis therapy breakthrough with stem cells (news-medical.net)
- Blood Stem Cells Are Influenced By Their Offspring (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Team Use Stem Cells to Restore Mobility in Paralyzed Monkey (science.slashdot.org)