Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stem Cell Trial for ALS Patients

Last week I wrote about the controversy over stem cell research.  Leon, in the KDA Forum, posted three articles on a neural stem cell trial taking place at Emory University in Atlanta.  Stage 1 started at the beginning of this year.  This initial stage was to determine the safety of the trial.  The safety review board did not find any issues in this initial phase.

stem cell

After receiving a thumbs-up, the trial will now proceed to Stage 2 where researchers will be injecting neural stem cells into the spinal chords of people with ALS.  The stem cells are derived from the spinal chord of a human fetus.  This second stage will inject six patients with ALS that can walk.  Three of the patients will receive five injections into one side of the lumbar area (lower back) of the spinal chord and three more will receive injections in both sides.

A Stage 3 trial is also being planned where participants will receive injections in the cervical area (neck) of the spinal chord.  The trial patients have to go through extensive testing before, during and after the trials.  The patients will also need immunosuppressive medications for the rest of their life to help the body accept the injected stem cells.  More information on the trials can be found at the Emory ALS Research Center.


Fox News in Atlanta published an article on one of the first patients to go through this procedure.  Mr. Conley explains his condition and situation quite well and his hope for the future.

It was interesting to read that the initial research is not expected to bring about any benefit to ALS patients.  It is being used to learn more about the injection procedure and behavior of injected cells.  The goal of this research, however, is to eventually determine whether (1) stem cells can be injected and become functioning nerve cells that will replace the cells damaged or destroyed by ALS, and (2) the injected cells can serve as a support system for the damaged ALS cells thereby keeping them functioning longer.

The researchers noted three major risks with this trial. 
(1) Will the immune system reject the injected cells
(2) Will the immunosuppressive medication cause the patient harm
(3) Will the spinal chord be damaged by the injections


The article ended on a positive note, however, by saying the Stage 1 trials were positive and a needed first step in determining the safety of stem cell injections into the spinal chord.

I will close by bringing this back to the potential benefits of this type therapy for those of us living with Kennedy’s Disease.  One of the issues several researchers have commented on regarding the use of stem cells is how to inject the stem cells into the needed area (the damaged muscle).  If this ALS procedure is safe and effective, it will go a long ways in helping our research in this new and exciting area of medicine.

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