ALS – Beyond the Ice Bucket Challenge

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is very rare, affecting approximately 20,000 Americans. In 1939, ALS became commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player brought the disease into the national spotlight. The disease causes patients to gradually and progressively lose control of their muscles until they can no longer speak, move, or breathe. Consistently fatal, the incurable disease commonly leads to death in two to five years, though some patients live much longer. Lou Gehrig was diagnosed on his 30th birthday and died two years later.

Prevalence and Prognosis

The cause of ALS remains unknown, though it generally affects people over 40, and it’s 20 percent more common in men than women. Military veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS, regardless of where or when they served. Between five and 10 percent of all cases in America are familial or inherited, and those with Familial ALS (FALS) have a 50 percent chance of passing the gene to each offspring. It’s crucial to note that ALS is not contagious, and some patients survive for longer than five years. Modern treatment has made it possible for about 10 percent of those afflicted to survive for a decade after being diagnosed, and 5 percent to live for 20 years or more.

Ongoing Research

A robust fundraising campaign called the “Ice Bucket Challenge” raised over 100 million dollars for the ALS Association, and the majority of the proceeds went directly toward research into finding a cure. According to the ALS Association, “Stem cells have emerged as a major tool for research into the causes of ALS and the search for new treatments.” Research with embryonic stem cells has been limited because of the ethical concerns with taking stem cells from human embryos. The ALS Association is currently funding research into the potential of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Unlike embryonic stem cells, iPS cells can be collected from an adult patient’s skin. The iPS cells are then cultured in a dish with certain combinations of cytokines and growth factors to become motor neurons. Clinical trials are still in their early stages, and it’s unclear whether the new motor neurons would have any resistance to progressive motor neuron death caused by ALS.

SVF Stem Cells

Ongoing research has found different kinds of stem cells from different parts of the body. The stem cells used at the Gulf Coast Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center are Adipose Derived Stem Cells, which are part of Stromal Vascular Fraction (SVF) of fat or adipose tissue. A modest amount of fat is obtained by a mini-liposuction procedure, then the fat cells are removed, leaving the SVF. The stem cells in this SVF are not cultured like iPS cells, but rather, they are harvested and deployed during the same outpatient visit. The SVF is a kind of tissue juice extracted from fatty (adipose) tissues, rich in stem cells and growth factors. The relative ease with which the fat is extracted, and the SVF is separated, and deployed, means that the whole procedure takes three hours or less. Learn more about the treatment protocols by calling for a consultation.

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