08 Oct Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a very rare condition with less than 20,000 cases in the United States each year. ALS is a neurologic condition that weakens muscles in the body and leads to loss of physical function over time. ALS is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous baseball player who suffered from the condition. ALS is very difficult for the person affected, and his or her loved ones. Previously, there was no viable treatment for ALS. However, stem cells are being tested in their efficacy in treating ALS symptoms and progression.
ALS is caused by the degeneration of motor neurons. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and the spinal cord to the muscles of the body. These motor neurons slowly die as the person ages, and the brain is no longer able to control muscles. In a large majority of cases, ALS occurs sporadically. In a much smaller percentage, the disease is inherited. People are typically affected by the disease between the ages of 40-70 years old.
ALS is a horrible disease. The mind stays intact, while the body disintegrates. The prognosis for patients affected by ALS is death. As the brain slowly loses its ability to control the body, the patient loses the ability to move, eat, and eventually, breathe. Loss of breathing is one of the leading causes of death in those patients affected by ALS. This can occur in as soon as 3-5 years after diagnosis. However, with intense medical intervention, some patients can live for more than ten years with the disease.
ALS is not currently curable. Treatments are aimed mainly at controlling symptoms and making the patient as comfortable as possible. While the treatments available are better than going untreated, they are not enough. The emergence of stem cell therapy has provided hope for those affected by ALS and their loved ones. There are currently clinical trials focused on understanding how induced pluripotent stem cells may be able to stop the degeneration of motor neurons in those affected by ALS. There is even hope that stem cells may be able to help regenerate the motor neurons that have been damaged, thus reversing the disease. While there is hope stem cells can pave the way for the future treatment of ALS, there is still a lot of research that needs to be conducted to ensure the safety of their use.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a devastating diagnosis. Having to watch your body deteriorate as your mind stays intact is unbearable. There are treatments available for ALS; however, they are all meant to treat the symptoms. No cure is currently available. Fortunately, as science progresses, and funding continues, there continue to be breakthroughs in potential cures. Stem cells are at the forefront of these possible therapies. Having the ability to regenerate neurons is key in developing a treatment to not only stop the disease but to fix any damage the disease has caused. It may be a ways off, but there is hope that one day a cure will exist for those who have ALS.