Is A Cure For ALS Around the Corner?November 11, 2009 - 1:25 PM | by: Reena Ninan
When New York Yankee Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig died from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1941 there was no cure. Sixty-eight years later there is still no cure. The disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, eventually paralyzing the body.
BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics Inc, a public U.S.-Israeli company that develops adult stem cell therapeutic products, may be on the verge of a significant breakthrough in ALS treatment. Fox’s Middle East Correspondent Reena Ninan sat down with the company’s chief scientist Prof. Daniel Offen, here are excerpts from the interview:
NINAN: What’s the ALS breakthrough you’re working on?
OFFEN: In our previous studies we have shown that our newly developed bone marrow derived stem cells can protect neurons in tissue cultures and in animal models. Recently, we found, in several experiments, that these unique cell populations can rescue motor neurons which are the cells that degenerate in ALS, as well.
NINAN: What makes you optimistic this will work with ALS patients?
OFFEN: Instead of using embryonic stem cells, which have ethical and safety issues, we take adult stem cells, differentiate them and transplant them into the patient. Our focus is to change the environment of the cells at the site of damage in the body. We also use cells taken from the actual patient with the disease, which greatly reduces the chance of rejection. We know of no other company that is doing this. We are extremely optimistic about our approach and its chances of success in helping ALS patients.
NINAN: If this research proves affective how will this change how we treat ALS patients?
OFFEN: We believe that within a year, if not sooner, our cell-based approach will be proven to be safe. Then, after controlled studies and FDA approval, ALS patients, both in early and late stages of the disease, will be able to enjoy alleviation of the symptoms and have the benefit of a better quality of life.
NINAN: Why has finding a cure for ALS been so difficult?
OFFEN: Because the exact cause of the disease is not known. Today there is no effective drug that is able to slow down the progression of the disease. Our new approach bypasses our lack of understanding and utilizes the patient’s own cells to secrete high doses of natural protective factors to the cells affected by the disease.
NINAN: You’ve also had success with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Huntington disease. What’s new there?
OFFEN: In studies we have shown that neurodegenerative diseases share the same damage pattern. Therefore, a specific therapeutic agent can potentially ameliorate the symptoms of several distinct neurodegenerative diseases. We used our unique stem cells in animal models of Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis and found that indeed, the transplanted cells rescue the degenerated neurons. Brainstorm plans to continue to study how our stem cell technology and methodology can be further utilized in the treatment of other neurodegenerative diseases.