Doctors in Atlanta, Georgia, working as part of a team funded completely by the Maryland company Neuralstem Inc., recently injected neural stem cells into the spinal cord of a 60-year-old man who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A CNN Medical News article reported that Neuralstem Inc. is currently conducting a study to determine the safety of stem cell injections into the spinal cords of patients with ALS.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to the breakdown of motor neurons in the spinal cords and brains of its victims. Motor neurons control the movement of muscles in the body. The FDA approved Neuralstem Inc. study is a major advance toward developing stem cell therapies for brain and spinal cord injury sufferers. The science director of the ALS Association, Lucie Bruijn, told CNN, ‘This is the first study to see if the invasive injection into the spinal cord is safe for the patient.’
Previous studies involving other kinds of stem cells have been performed outside the United States, but none of them have been as rigorous as the current study. The doctors involved in the study said that the stem cells would not become motor neurons. Instead, they hypothesized, the stem cell injections will slow down the deterioration of remaining motor neurons in the ALS patients’ spinal cords.
The study will involve about 12 ALS patients. Doctors will inject the neural stem cells into a lower portion of the spinal cord responsible for leg movement, since ALS patients tend to lose the use of their legs early in the progression of the disease, CNN reported. The chairman and chief scientific officer of Neuralstem Inc., Karl Johe, created a technology that enables the company to make billions of copies of stem cells. The copying process allowed Neuralstem Inc. scientists to use a single source of the cells – the spinal cord of an eight-week-old fetus that was donated to the company.
The FDA approved another company, Geron Corporation out of California, to inject stem cells into human subjects. While they received approval in early 2009, their trials have not yet begun. While it is important to remain cautious until the treatment is better developed and proven safe, spinal cord and brain injury patients might soon see the benefits of stem cell treatments as research progresses.
Falco, Miriam. (Jannuary 21, 2010) ‘First U.S. stem cells transplanted into spinal cord.’ Retrieved on January 24, 2010 from the CNN Health Web site:http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/01/21/stem.cell.spine/