Research on treatment for ALS aided by stem cells

Though the Food and Drug Administration remains closed due to the federal government shutdown, researchers at the University are pushing forward the development of stem-cell therapies, with the hope of improving the quality of life for individuals with life-threatening disabilities.

Researchers at University Hospital and the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute are exploring the use of stem cells in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gerhigs disease, a neurodegenerative condition that causes cell death in spinal cord neurons that control movement. Patients with ALS suffer from loss of muscle control and often die of respiratory failure.

Neurology Prof. Eva Feldman presented recent results from her research at an event Wednesday evening at the Taubman Institutes Kahn Auditorium for an audience of about 40 students and faculty. Feldman discussed the completion of Phase I trials of the new stem-cell therapy and her plans for Phase II.

While Phase I trials typically test the safety of a treatment in human patients, Phase II tests the treatments efficacy. Feldmans research team received approval for Phase II of their research in May and has since begun tests.

Shortly before the event Wednesday afternoon, a third patient enrolled in the trial had the surgical procedure, in which a surgeon injects stem cells into specific regions of the spinal cord. Although it is too early to record changes in disease progression, Feldman said the three patients have experienced no adverse consequences from the procedure.

Stem cells have the unique ability to fulfill a wide variety of tasks by developing into specialized cells depending on their environment. When these cells are injected into the spinal cord of ALS patients, they surround diseased cells and slow the progression of cell death, Feldman said.

Depending on how you grow them they can become any cell in the body, Feldman said.

Feldmans treatment uses a relatively new strain of human embryonic stem cells developed at the University through partnerships with the National Institutes of Health. She referenced the work of Physiology Prof. Gary Smith at MStem Cell Laboratories the Universitys stem cell institution as a crucial component to the development of the treatment.

What weve done here at the University of Michigan is make embryonic stem cell lines, which are now being used for understanding disease course as well as for treatment, Feldman said.

Stem cells have the potential to aid in the treatment of not only ALS, but a wide range of debilitating and life-threatening diseases, including Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers disease and multiple sclerosis, Feldman said.

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Research on treatment for ALS aided by stem cells

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