In 11 independent studies, a consortium of ALS researchers shows that transplanting neural stem cells into the spinal cord of an ALS mouse model slows disease onset and progression, improves motor function, and significantly prolongs survival.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is untreatable and fatal. Nerve cells in the spinal cord die, eventually taking away a person’s ability to move or even breathe. A consortium of ALS researchers at multiple institutions, including Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, tested transplanted neural stem cells as a treatment for the disease. In 11 independent studies, they found that transplanting neural stem cells into the spinal cord of a mouse model of ALS slows disease onset and progression. This treatment also improves host motor function and significantly prolongs survival.
Surprisingly, the transplanted neural stem cells did not benefit ALS mice by replacing deteriorating nerve cells. Instead, neural stem cells help by producing factors that preserve the health and function of the host’s remaining nerve cells. They also reduce inflammation and suppress the number of disease-causing cells in the host’s spinal cord. These findings, published December 19 in Science Translational Medicine, demonstrate the potential neural stem cells hold for treating ALS and other nervous system disorders.
“While not a cure for human ALS, we believe that the careful transplantation of neural stem cells, particularly into areas that can best sustain life—respiratory control centers, for example—may be ready for clinical trials,” Evan Y. Snyder, M.D., Ph.D., director of Sanford-Burnham’s Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Program and senior author of the study.