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A treatment for ALS increasingly possible

UWM scientists from the Faculty of Medical Sciences announced the results of a stem cell treatment underwent by patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The outcome of the therapy is highly promising and gives hope to the ALS community.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a fatal, progressive disease of a peripheral nervous system. Its first symptoms include muscular dystrophy and paraparesis. As the illness progresses, patients become imprisoned in their own bodies. They are not able to move, and have troubles speaking, swallowing, or even breathing. On average, it takes 2,5 years from the diagnosis to a patient’s death. However, there are also exceptions, like Stephen Hawking – a British astrophysicist, cosmologist, physics theoretician – who has been battling against the disease for over 50 years.

On 24 October, during an international symposium on neurology held at UWM, Prof. Wojciech Maksymowicz, the Dean of the UWM Faculty of Medical Studies, and the head of the panel of neurologists and neurosurgeons (photo), together with Prof. Adam Czapliński, a neurologist from the NeuroCentre Bellevue in Zurych, Switzerland, announced the results of their research on this (yet) fatal disease.

Physicians administered stem cells to over 30 patients. During the symposium, they presented the results of eleven cases, because more than half of patients undergoing the therapy have not finished the six-month period of the research yet. All the patients have survived at least six months, while the average survival rate of patients treated with the only available and registered drug for ALS, Riluzole, amounts to three months.

The researchers found out that the disease progression has slowed significantly in seven cases. In four, health improvement has not been noticed, which means that the disease progressed in the same pace, as before stem cells administration. However, the most important fact is that the condition of patients that had a positive reaction to the treatment underwent a complete stabilization within four months after the drug administration.

Doctors believe it may mean that after being administered, stem cells influence the immune system. Prof. Maksymowicz admits that current observations of patients allow us to think that, perhaps, in some cases stem cells administration should be repeated at required intervals.

It is also very important to find the answer why one patient reacts positively to the treatment, and another does not, as well as who should be offered the treatment, since currently about 200 patients awaits the therapy.

The results of the research are highly satisfactory, but they cannot be considered as the final solution for the ALS therapy. Further studies and funds are necessary. At present, scholars do not have enough resources to broaden the therapy to hundreds of patients. Moreover, it would be perfect if so-called “placebo group” – a set of people who are administered a non-medical substance – was included in the project. Only such a broad group of the examined would give the final answer to what kind of patients can be cured with the stem cell therapy, and to what extent.

During the symposium scientists concluded that stem cells could be also used in the treatment of other illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis.

Transl. by AP


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