Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease is a neurological disease that affects voluntary muscle movement.
When a person wants to move a part of the body, like the hand, the signal first starts in the brain (the motor cortex), travels through the central nervous system (the spine) and to the peripheral nervous system (the nerves connecting to the particular muscle).
In ALS, the two systems, The central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) start to deteriorate. There is nothing wrong with the muscle but because the nerve connection is lost, the muscle starts to shrivel up and dies. In advance stages of the disease, the ability to speak is also affected.
ALS is not as common as other neurological diseases like Parkinson's Disease or Alzheimer's Disease. In the United States, 5,600 each year gets diagnosed with ALS and there are around 30,000 Americans living with the disease at any given time.
Although muscle twitches (involuntary small movement of muscles) is a symptom of ALS, these twitches are a common occurrence due to an overactive nerve cell. It doesn't necessarily mean that one has ALS because of it. Difficulty chewing or swallowing, speaking problems, and muscle weakness and stiffness are additional symptoms.
There is no definitive test to diagnose the disease. Instead, physical examinations, blood tests, MRI imaging, and electrical study of nerves and muscles are used to detect the disease.
There is no cure for ALS.
The cause for ALS is unknown but 5% to 10% of ALS cases are hereditary. People aged 40 to 70 usually the age where Lou Gehrig's disease appears but there are cases where people as young as 15 start to suffer from it.
In Europe, statistics show that healthy football players have higher incidence of ALS which leads to a theory that the disease is associated with physical activity. Aside from statistical data, there is no solid evidence behind this assumption.
Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, suffers from ALS.
Stem Cell Therapy For Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Apparent stem cell transplant success in mice may hold promise for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. The results of the study were released today and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego, March 16 to 23, 2013.
"There have been remarkable strides in stem cell transplantation when it comes to other diseases, such as cancer and heart failure," said study author Stefania Corti, MD, PhD, with the University of Milan in Italy and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "ALS is a fatal, progressive, degenerative disease that currently has no cure. Stem cell transplants may represent a promising avenue for effective cell-based treatment for ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases."
Video: ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)
For the study, mice with an animal model of ALS were injected with human neural stem cells taken from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). iPSC are adult cells such as skin cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell-like state. Neurons are a basic building block of the nervous system, which is affected by ALS. After injection, the stem cells migrated to the spinal cord of the mice, matured and multiplied.
The study found that stem cell transplantation significantly extended the lifespan of the mice by 20 days and improved their neuromuscular function by 15 percent.
"Our study shows promise for testing stem cell transplantation in human clinical trials," said Corti.
American Academy of Neurology
University of Milan
The Italian Foundation for Research on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
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