Is Stem Cell Therapy Ready?

There has been great enthusiasm for using stem cells to treat ALS and many other diseases, and we get many inquires about stem cell therapy. The bottom line is that stem cells are not yet being used as a treatment for ALS in the US, but there are studies assessing safety. There is an ongoing program at Emory University geared toward assessing the safety of stem cell injections into the spinal cord. Click here to link to reference article. A phase II study of bone marrow derived stem cells injected into the spinal fluid and muscle of patients with ALS was completed at the Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital and U Mass Medical Center. See  A larger phase III study is underway.

The results of a study of bone marrow-derived (mesenchymal) stem cells using this technique has been published by a group from Israel.

These researchers treated 26 patients in a non-blinded, non-controlled fashion and concluded that the treatment was safe, and it might be beneficial.  Patients appeared to have a slower loss of function and slower decline in breathing after the transplant compared to prior.  However, to prove benefit, a larger study that is properly controlled will be necessary.

Our Center is not using stem cells for therapy. We have a program to turning skin stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) from ALS patients into motor neurons to further our understanding of how human motor neurons are affected in ALS and to use these motor neurons to develop new therapies.  Soon, we will be able to make the induced pluripotent stem cells from blood.