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Advances in Stem Cell Research for MS and ALS

Transplants could help treat people with incurable diseases.

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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The process of replacing damaged cells with healthy ones has shown great promise in two clinical trials.
The process of replacing damaged cells with healthy ones has shown great promise in two clinical trials.
Rafe Swan/Getty Images

Medical research is constantly advancing the ways that stem cell transplants, in which damaged cells are replaced with healthy ones, can be used to treat disease. This year saw significant advances in the potential treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS).

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Most people know it as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, named after the New York Yankees baseball player diagnosed with it in 1939. The ALS Association estimates that 30,000 Americans have the disease, with roughly 5,600 new cases diagnosed each year.

RELATED VIDEO: Finally — Some Hope for People With ALS

There is no cure for ALS, but new research using stem cells offers the first real hope for a breakthrough. “There are different mechanisms by which stem cells may be helpful for ALS,” says Nathan Staff, MD, PhD, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic. “The avenue that we’re pursuing is to use them as a neuro-protective agent.”

The Mayo Clinic trial is still in the first phase, but the hope is that this treatment could slow or even halt the disease’s progression.

For Anton Feokhari, who has MS, stem cell transplantation has proven to be a life-changer. MS is an autoimmune disease in which antibodies attack the myelin sheath that protects the nerves. Feokhari participated in a clinical trial to stop the disease by “rebooting” his immune system.

“The stem cell transplant is no walk in the park,” says Michael Racke, MD, a neurologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and one of the researchers in the trial. “The treatment is potentially perhaps the most aggressive type that you can give these people.”

But the results have been impressive: Only 22 percent of patients in the trial had a return to active disease after three years, as contrasted with 60 to 70 percent who underwent other treatments.

RELATED VIDEO: Can a ‘Reboot’ of the Immune System Stop MS?

“The transplant was the hardest experience in my life,” says Feokhari, who developed an infection that nearly killed him. “But however it happened, I turned the corner eventually, and then I went from regretting doing the trial to being very happy I did it.” It is now five years since the transplant, and he has not had any return of active disease.






Video: Stem Cell Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis - Sam Harrell 10-10-2015

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Date: 02.12.2018, 11:00 / Views: 44531