Researchers Hoping to Use Stem Cell Therapy to Treat ALS

Researchers Hoping to Use Stem Cell Therapy to Treat ALS

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It is one of the most puzzling diseases of our time: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease). Currently affecting around 30,000 Americans, ALS has no cure or effective treatment. But a research team at the University of Wisconsin at Madison is hoping to change this.

The university's Department of Comparative Biosciences is using stem cell therapy to develop a treatment for patients suffering from ALS.

Dr. Naota Hashimoto is a La Quinta, California-based doctor who uses adult stem cells in his practice. He believes that the work being done by the UW-Madison team could yield some significant strides in helping ALS patients.

"The major problem with ALS that makes it so difficult to treat is that it's not just one disorder, it is actually a group of neurological diseases that affect the neurons that control voluntary muscle movement," Hashimoto says.

According to Hashimoto, these voluntary movements include chewing food, breathing, walking and talking.

"When a patient loses control of the ability to breathe or chew, this can easily be fatal," Hashimoto says.

"So figuring out how to even treat such a serious disease is very important."

Hashimoto says the research being done at UW-Madison is specifically targeting the respiratory functions of patients with ALS. Researchers are hoping to use genetically modified stem cells to prevent further damage to the respiratory system.

"The procedure would involve injecting genetically modified stem cells into the diaphragm of the ALS patient, in hopes that this treatment would slow or stop those muscles from continuing to deteriorate," Hashimoto says.

Though the research is currently being conducted on laboratory rodents, researchers hope that with proven success it may eventually be approved for use on humans.

"Stem cell therapy is already helping to treat so many conditions that were previously thought untreatable," Hashimoto says.

"Our hope is that eventually this treatment can provide some relief to ALS patients, because right now there's very little available to help them."

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