More than 50% of motor neurons degenerate before people with ALS show the first signs of disease. And, more than 70% of motor neurons by some estimates are lost about one year after being diagnosed.
To stem the tide of motor neuron destruction, a growing number of scientists are turning to stem cells in hopes to treat ALS. The strategy deploys cellular armies that aim to protect the motor nerves from further damage due to the disease. The approach, which involves injections of certain cellular precursors, seeks to reduce motor neuron loss by boosting levels of protective substances (neurotrophins) or by detoxifying the nervous systems.
Clinical trials are ongoing. Brainstorm’s NurOwn is at phase IIA. Corestem’s HYNR-CS is at phase I/II. Neuralstem hopes to begin phase II testing as early as this summer. And, Q Therapeutics’ glial-based strategy is expected to file an IND for phase I testing sometime next year.
In the meantime, scientists are using stem cells to create cellular models of ALS. Motor neurons can now be recreated from people with the disease. Key signs of ALS are beginning to be detected. Now, scientists hope to use these models to understand why motor neurons fail in people with ALS. And, discover potential drugs for the disease.
Ahead of the 2013 meeting of the International Society of Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), ALS Today takes a look back at stem cells in ALS in an interactive timeline. Click on the timeline to find out about key advances and key challenges going forward.
To learn more about the latest advances in stem cells in ALS, check out SfN12: ALS on the Bayou. To learn more about the challenges of bringing stem cells in the clinic, check out Neuralstem: surging immunosuppression?
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References: iPS, underlying mechanisms and identifying new medicines
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