ALS breakthrough holds hope
Canwest News ServicePublished: Tuesday, May 27, 2008
VANCOUVER -- Researchers say it might be possible to slow, maybe treat, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- a fatal neurodegenerative disease known as ALS -- by stimulating the body's own stem cells.
A team, led by neurologist Dr. Neil Cashman at the University of British Columbia, announced yesterday that it has found a "safe pathway" for activating bone-marrow stem cells in ALS patients.
The idea is to use a growth-factor stimulant to increase the number of stem cells in the body, in the hope they will travel to the site of motor-neuron injury and slow down the disease's progression, says Cashman.
His team recently completed a small trial involving eight patients that showed a growth stimulant is well tolerated and can be safely used in people with ALS. Cashman says he's working to build support for a much larger trial involving ALS treatment centres across Canada to see whether there is a therapeutic benefit.
If it works, Cashman says the treatment could sidestep the use of stem cells made from human embryos, which is fraught with ethical problems.
But much research is needed to find out if stimulating the body's own stem cells will work.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that kills one in 1,000 adult Canadians. Most die within five years of their first symptom.
There is no cure for ALS, and Cashman says finding one is "a very tall order."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008