Thursday, 20 December 2012

Transplanted neural stem cells help mice with ALS

A consortium of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) researchers, tested the effects of transplanted neural stem cells as a potential treatment for the condition. In total, 11 independent studies were released, revealing that transplanting neural stem cells in mice with ALS does indeed significantly slow the disease's progression.

The consortium included scientists from many renown institutes including Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. During their experiments, the scientists transplanted neural stem cells into the spinal cord of the affected mice. The results were very promising.

Motor and respiratory function were improved, survival rates were prolonged and generally the disease was decelerated. Most of the treated mice managed to survive one year or more, which is about three or four times more than the expected lifespan for untreated ALS mice.

So neural stem cell treatment worked, but not in the way most would expect. The transplanted stem cells didn't replace the already affected nerve cells, neither did they form new ones. It was found, that they helped by producing protective molecules, that simply preserved the health and function of the affected neurons . They also triggered the host's cells to produce protective molecules of their own. Additionally, the researchers discovered that the transplanted stem cells reduced inflammation and suppressed the number of ALS toxin-producing cells in the spinal cord.

Healthy Neurons
Evan Y. Snyder, one of the key-researchers, made the following statements:

“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 centres, for example—may be ready for clinical trials,” 

"We discovered that cell replacement plays a surprisingly small role in these impressive clinical benefits. Rather, the stem cells change the host environment for the better and protect the endangered nerve cells,” 

“This realisation is important because most diseases are now being recognised as multifaceted in their cause and their symptoms—they don’t involve just one cell type or one malfunctioning process. We are coming to recognise that the multifaceted actions of the stem cell may address a number of these disease processes.”

Evan Snyder

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),  is a debilitating disease that inevitably causes death. The median survival time from onset to death is about 40 months, and only 4% of the patients manage to survive more than 10 years. Some common symptoms include  rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy, muscle spasticity, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) and dyspnea. Currently the available treatments can only slow down the condition, yielding modest results at best.  

Informational Video about the condition

Evan Y. Snyder, M.D., Ph.D. is a director of Sanford-Burnham’s Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Program and senior author of the study.

Teng, Y., Benn, S., Kalkanis, S., Shefner, J., Onario, R., Cheng, B., Lachyankar, M., Marconi, M., Li, J., Yu, D., Han, I., Maragakis, N., Llado, J., Erkmen, K., Redmond, D., Sidman, R., Przedborski, S., Rothstein, J., Brown, R., & Snyder, E. (2012). Multimodal Actions of Neural Stem Cells in a Mouse Model of ALS: A Meta-Analysis Science Translational Medicine, 4 (165), 165-165 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3004579

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