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Can stem cells help people with ALS?

Louis A. Cona M.D.

Dec 16, 2019

Reading time: 3 minutes 15 seconds

A brief description of ALS and the potential uses of stem cell therapy in relation to the condition.

Introduction to ALS

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, is a relatively tricky disease to understand and treat. It affects approximately one to two per 100,000 people in the United States every year. 


Nearly 95% of ALS cases are caused by unknown factors, with only around 5% being genetically inherited from parents. Although ALS usually strikes around age 50-60, it can affect people of any age. 


Is there a cure for ALS?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and the current prognosis is two to four years from onset. Recent advances in stem cell technology have provided both new tools for researchers to fight ALS, as well as possible new treatments for patients themselves.  Stem cell therapy may be able to delay the progression of the disease state. However, more long term research studies should be conducted to establish treatment efficacy.


What is ALS?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) occurs when the body starts experiencing the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles. 


ALS affects both upper and lower motor neurons, meaning patients with the disease begin to experience both involuntary spasticity as well as weakening of the muscles over time. This involuntary spasticity results in worsening symptoms.

Symptoms of ALS

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty moving
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Slurred speech


Can drugs help ALS patients?

There are currently drugs available, which both slightly increase length of life, as well as improve quality of life, but there is no accepted cure for ALS today. There has been a push in recent years to raise awareness to ALS in an attempt to promote research into finding a cure. This increase in awareness was most notably seen in 2014 with the introduction of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Pictured: Group participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a social movement to create awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Stem cell therapy for ALS

Stem cell therapy may be a viable treatment option for ALS.  Stem cells may be a viable solution to sustain and nurture diseased motor neurons.  (1)


According to Goutman et al.


“The premise of stem cell therapy for ALS aims to improve the diseased microenvironment. While stem cells are unable to replace diseased motor neurons directly, transplanted stem cells secrete neurotrophic factors and differentiate into supportive cells, such as astrocytes and microglia, generating a neuroprotective milieu that can slow degeneration of motor neurons.” (1) 


Researchers have turned to stem cells in the fight against ALS for two main reasons.


  1.  Doctors need an ample supply of ALS sample cells on which to test treatments. Fortunately, a type of stem cell called an Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (IPSC) can closely mimic the neurons affected by ALS. Researchers need only small skin samples from ALS patients to create an indefinite amount of IPSCs in the lab, allowing for continuous testing on genetically identical cells to the patients. This capability provides a massive benefit to physicians around the world seeking different forms of treatment, all without causing any further harm to ALS patients.
  2. Stem cells are being used in trials to treat ALS directly. Stem cells can seek out damage in the body and replace cells of any type. For this reason, stem cell transplants are currently used to both protect a patient’s healthy neurons, as well as potentially grow new cells to replace those that have died.


Stem cell trials for ALS published


A study conducted by Panayiota Petrou et al. in 2016, found stem cell therapy to be both safe and well-tolerated by ALS patients. 


“Among the 26 patients, 87% were defined as responders to either ALS Functional Rating Scale-Revised or forced vital capacity, having at least 25% improvement at six months after treatment in the slope of progression.” (2)


 Researchers hope treatments like this will be able to eventually slow to stop the progression of ALS, vastly improving the results of current drugs on the market.


Stem cell treatment for ALS at DVC Stem

Stem cell therapy may have the ability to slow the progression of ALS. This is conducted through stem cells ability to differentiate into unique types of supportive cells such as astrocytes and microglia (cells within the central nervous system). These supportive cells may have the ability to slow the degeneration of motor neurons within the CNS.


DVC Stem is a stem cell therapy pioneer, offering stem cell therapies for years and has become a cornerstone of the medical tourism industry. Located in the tropical paradise of Grand Cayman in the Western Caribbean, we offer patients a nearby alternative to travelling long distances and to less ideal locations. Our protocols are IRB approved, and our cells come from regulated, U.S. based, FDA compliant laboratories. We seek to offer the highest quality products, the latest available treatments for a variety of conditions, all combined with a world-class setting and service. Contact us today to request additional information.


References:


(1) Stephen A. Goutman, Masha G. Savelieff, Stacey A. Sakowski & Eva L. Feldman (2019) Stem cell treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a critical overview of early phase trials, Expert Opinion on Investigational Drugs, 28:6, 525-543, DOI: 10.1080/13543784.2019.1627324


(2) Petrou P, Gothelf Y, Argov Z, et al. Safety and Clinical Effects of Mesenchymal Stem Cells Secreting Neurotrophic Factor Transplantation in Patients With Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: Results of Phase 1/2 and 2a Clinical Trials. JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(3):337–344. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaneurol.2015.4321

3 DAYS POST TREATMENT

Tyler explains his experience at DVC Stem in the Cayman Islands.

Tyler is optimistic that he will see positive results post treatment.

"The cool thing about the Cayman Islands besides being beautiful, it was an opportunity to get some rest and relaxation allowing my body to heal and restore. I'm back in the US now and feel like I am ready to conquer the world."

- Tyler Heid

2 WEEKS POST TREATMENT

2 weeks post treatment, MS patient Tyler is beginning to see amazing progress. He has been wheelchair bound for the last year and has not been able to move his legs unassisted before now.

Tyler Heid, lifting his foot 12" off the ground with 2 lb weights on his ankles.

Tyler - 2 weeks post treatment

"I'm on a path of progression and I'm getting better and better each day."

Tyler Heid - 2 months post treatment

2 MONTHS POST TREATMENT

Tyler updates about his progress, explaining the amazing response he has been receiving from his friends and family.

"People coming up to me saying I am moving, talking and smiling so much better. They are noticing a lot of things that have improved over the course of 3 months."

"This morning I was able to do things that I was unable to do before, I was able to stand up and lift my leg higher than I ever have before."

5 MONTHS POST TREATMENT

5 months post treatment Tyler sends us an update on his progress.

"I'm able to smile better, I have more control over the left side of my face."

"I have an increased ability to grip, lift my legs higher and higher which has gone well."

Tyler is optimistic and on the right track to recovery. We are ecstatic to see his progress and look forward to more updates from him.

"I have an increased ability to grip, lift my legs higher and higher which has gone well."

Tyler Heid - 5 months post treatment

"This is exciting stuff, god bless"

Matthew Murry - MS Patient

2 WEEKS POST TREATMENT

Matthew experiences sensation in the bottom of his feet after receiving a simple nerve test.

His left foot did not experience any sensation or move at all, but what happened to his right foot is extremely exciting!

David Lyons

Multiple Sclerosis

Although David Lyons was able to successfully fight Multiple Sclerosis through a strict regimen of diet and exercise, he wanted to ensure he was doing everything he could to stay fit. Multiple Sclerosis can be managed with treatment, but there is currently no cure for the disease. For that reason, David came to DVC Stem years ago to use the regenerative and anti-inflammatory attributes of stem cells to aid in his fight for fitness.

The positive results he experienced enabled David to stay strong in the gym, now into his 60s, and that is why he continues to support our clinic to this day.

About the author

LOUIS A. CONA, MD

Dr. Cona has been performing stem cell therapy for over 10 years. He is a member of the World Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (WAAAM). He is also a recognized member of the British Medical Association, the General Medical Council (UK), the Caribbean College of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is the Medical Director for DVC Stem a world-renowned stem cell therapy clinic located in Grand Cayman.

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