Jan. 8 - Researchers at Emory University in the United States are hoping to extend the lives of patients diagnosed with the deadly neuro-degenerative disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS kills by destroying a patient's nervous system but in clinical trials, the scientists say injections of neural stem cells show promise in slowing the disease's progress. Ben Gruber reports.
Lying in a hospital bed at Emory University just before undergoing an experimental surgery in late October of last year, April Moundzouris vividly remembers the day her life changed. (SOUNDBITE) (English) APRIL MOUNDZOURIS, TRIAL PARTICIPANT WITH ALS DISEASE, SAYING: "I had the first doctor tell me in March 28, 2012, and then I had second opinions. There was still maybe a hope, you know? I first saw Dr. Glass in June of that year and that's when the final word..you have ALS." There is no cure for ALS. It's a deadly neuro-degenerative disease that shuts down the nervous system, leaving its victims paralysed and unable to breathe. Most patients die within three years of diagnosis. Dr. Jonathan Glass and a team of neurosurgeons are hoping to extend the lives of ALS patients and hopefully alleviate the worst of their symptoms. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JONATHAN GLASS, PROFESSOR OF NEUROLOGY AND PATHOLOGY, EMORY UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "In this case we have a disease that is relentless and is really untreatable and so what we are looking to do is change the slope of disease so if you were heading down hill this way, we are looking to do something that changes the slope of that disease so you live longer basically. It becomes a chronic disease as opposed to a terminal disease." To accomplish this goal, Glass and his collaborators are now in the second phase of a human clinical trial, where they are injecting millions of specially designed neural stem cells into the upper spinal cords of patients with ALS. The stem cells were developed by biotech company NeuralStem, specifically to treat neuro-degenerative diseases like ALS. Glass says that in rat models, the treatment worked at slowing the disease down. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JONATHAN GLASS, PROFESSOR OF NEUROLOGY AND PATHOLOGY, EMORY UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Stem cells are interesting and in some ways they are magic. And they are magic because we really don't know what they can do and stem cells have worked extraordinarily well in other types of diseases. What we are hoping they are doing is making connections like they did in the rat and keeping those motor neurons healthy." And if these stem cells can repair and rebuild the pathways that make up the nervous system, Dr. Glass and his team hope they can give ALS victims like April Moundzouris a little more time. Three months after her surgery, April says she is feeling better. She knows that this treatment will not save her life, but hopes it helps researchers better understand the disease.. and extend the lives of those who have it.