ALS (“Lou Gehrig's Disease”)
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a devastating disease that progressively destroys nerve cells called motor neurons in the brain and the spinal cord, eventually causing paralysis and death. Baseball great Lou Gehrig first brought national attention to the disease in 1939 when he retired from baseball after being diagnosed with ALS. He died two years later, but ALS is still commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig's disease.”
People who have ALS steadily lose their ability to control muscle movement. Patients in the later stages become totally paralyzed, although their minds are often unaffected. The average life expectancy of a person with ALS is two to five years from time of diagnosis. Many ALS sufferers die within a few years due to failure of the nerve cells that control breathing.
The cause of ALS is unknown and there is currently no cure. One FDA-approved drug, Rilutek, helps slow the progression of ALS, but no existing treatment halts or reverses the disease.
Human and Social Costs
An estimated 30,000 Americans suffer from ALS. Every day, an average of 15 more people are diagnosed with ALS – more than 5,600 people per year.
The financial cost to families of persons with ALS is exceedingly high. In the advanced stages, caring for an ALS patient can cost up to $200,000 a year, imposing both an enormous financial toll and emotional toll on affected families.
The Potential for Stem Cell Cures and Therapies
Recent studies indicate that stem cells can generate healthy new nerve cells, potentially providing a way to replace those that are lost as a result of ALS.
One possible approach is to develop new motor neurons from human pluripotent stem cells and then introduce them into regions of the body where motor neurons have died. In other recent studies, researchers have used stem cells to develop astrocytes, special cells that nourish and support brain and spinal nerve cells. These cells could, in turn, help regenerate nerve cells and reduce symptoms associated with ALS.
That’s why many ALS victims, their families and groups like Project ALS and the ALS Therapy Development Foundation strongly support stem cell research – and have endorsed the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.
Partial list of sources:
The ALS Therapy Development Foundation
"Stem Cells Stimulated By Natural Growth Factor Reverse Damage, Restore
Some Function In Adult Brain." ScienceDaily.com
"Can transplanted stem cells restore function and increase survival?" ALS
"In vitro differentiation of transplantable neural precursors from
human embryonic stem cells.", Zang, S.C., Wernig, M., Duncan, I.D.,
Brustle, O., and Thomson, J.A. 2001., Nat. Biotechnol, 19, 1129-1133.
"Generalized potential of adult neural stem cells." Clarke,
D.L., C.B. Johansson, J. Wilbertz, B. Veress, E. Nilsson, H. Karlstrom,
U. Lendahl and J. Frisen. 2000. Science, 288:1660-1663.
The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins
"Stem cells reduce brain damage: May replace, protect injured tissue."
Harvard University Gazette
Stem Cell Information: The official National Institutes of Health resource
for stem cell research
"Scientists explore new directions in ALS research." UW School