ALS is an acronym that stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, it is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is rapidly progressive, fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells which are responsible for controlling voluntary muscles actions that we can control the leg, face and arm muscles. ALS is the most common disease of all the diseases in group known as motor neuron diseases, which are characterized by the gradual degeneration and death of motor neurons. These are fatal diseases that have not been very easy to treat.
The motor neurons are very vital communication links between the nervous system and the voluntary muscles of the body that are located in the brain, brain stem, and spinal cord. Messages from motor neurons in the brain are transmitted to motor neurons in the spinal cord and from them to particular muscles. This communication is interrupted by ALS which leads to degeneration of both the upper and the lower motor neurons and thus messages are not sent to muscles. After sometime the malfunctioned muscles will begin to waste away which eventually leading to the brain losing its ability to control voluntary movements.
ALS in most cases begins subtly and might be assumed but over a time it escalates into more devastating symptoms. some of the earliest symptoms that ALS victims have to endure include fasciculations, cramps, tight and stiff muscles, muscle weakness affecting an arm or a leg, slurred and nasal speech and difficulty chewing or swallowing. The physicians often use these symptoms as suspicion of ALS.
The symptoms will show on the part of the body where the muscle is affected most. however most of the times the symptoms often first show in the arms and hands and they will feel their arms and hands fail them in performing simple tasks such as lifting a spoon, dressing up, unbuckling the belt, writing or even opening a door. Otherwise the symptoms may show with the legs becoming affected leading to tripping and tumbling over. When the symptoms begin with either the arms or the feet, it is known as limb onset ALS but when the symptoms first show as slurred speech it is termed as bulbar onset ALS.
Once the disease has begun either through limb onset or bulbar onset, the muscle atrophy will spread to the rest of the body parts as the disease progresses. Such problems as swallowing, forming words, speaking and even moving will be experienced.
ALS is a serious disease but since now there is no conventional treatment that addresses the damage that is caused, therefore till now there is no cure for ALS and other motor neuron diseases. The only treatment available today for ALS focuses only on relieving the symptoms and improving the quality of life. Drugs that are currently used like Riluzole are not very effective and can never cure the disease.
The application of stem cells in treatment of various degenerative diseases has become so popular over a time. With ALS however the cause of muscle atrophy is not even known but still ALS is a degenerative disease and therefore if there is to be a treatment that is effective then it has to focus on correcting the damage on the motor neurons. There are researchers still working to find out what causes ALS and whether the stem cells can be used to treat ALS and other motor neuron diseases. There are different types of stem cells but mesenchymal stem cells have generated a lot of interest in researchers for their ability to heal.
Research on stem cells for treating ALS
The fact that the motor neurons are located in the brain and in the spinal cord make it very complicated to do research on the damaged cells. However there are some researchers who have braved this barrier to find some meaningful findings. A team of scientists at Harvard University in the USA used skin cells from an ALS patient to tackle this menace. The researchers began by first transforming the skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells lab-grown stem cells that imitate the actions of embryonic stem cells that have the ability to make all the different cells of the body. After growing these stem cells, the researchers then used them to grow motor neurons that had been damaged by ASL. This research was done in 2008.
The stem cells have the ability to form other cells and tissues of the body hence can be used to replace the damaged cells. They have also been found to be effective in regeneration of cells and hence are very useful in treatment of degenerative medicine. However there has been a thought that just transplanting lab grown stem cells may not help a great deal in healing those suffering from ALS. It is thought that there are a lot of factors that cause ALS, the transplanted stem cells may also be damaged. However there is still need for research in this area to unearth the possibility of the stem cells to treat the ALS.
Finally, Degenerative diseases have debilitated many people but it is treatable. Dr. Dalal Akoury (MD) is an expert in integrative medicine and a founder of AWAREmed Health and Wellness Center located at Myrtle Beach South Caroline. Visit her for more information on most lifestyle diseases.