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Embryonic Stem Cell Transplantation’s Safety to be Determined in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Patients

A team of researchers, headed by Dr. Eva Feldman, at the University of Michigan, will be soon conducting the first clinical trial on patients suffering from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease by injecting stem cells into ‘that’ area of spine which could save the life of the patient. This trial will help the team to understand the safety of stem cell transplantation.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease, where the neurons or nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are affected. Motor neurons which are responsible for transmitting the signals from brain to muscle cells in the body, through spinal cord, degenerate in a progressive manner. The death of motor neurons in turn affects the ability of the brain to initiate and control the muscle movement, gradually leading to paralysis.

ALS patients find it difficult to walk, speak, swallow or breathe normally, due to muscle weakness.

After receiving approval from the U.S. FDA in 2009, nine ALS patients who could no longer walk, were given stem cell injections in the lower part of their spines, by the Emory University investigators. This experiment showed positive results in two of the patients, who very recently began to walk.

The next step is to transplant stem cells into the upper part of the patient’s spine, to protect large motor neurons which help in breathing.

This step is based on the fact that rats injected with stem cells in the upper part of the spine could preserve the motor neurons, which usually die in ALS patients.

Moreover, the main focus of this phase of clinical trial is on the effectiveness of the stem cell transplantation procedure.

Though there are many unseen road blocks in the process of finding a cure for this dreadful disease, scientists are hoping to understand it, by analyzing the results obtained so far, and the results that are yet to see the light.

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