Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rapidly progressive neurologic disease in which the nerves that connect to and control skeletal muscle prematurely die, resulting in muscle atrophy and weakness that steals away the ability to walk, stand, sit without support, speak, swallow, and breathe independently. ALS is inevitably fatal with no curative and only one disease-slowing treatment. Although the exact cause of ALS is unknown, the earliest abnormalities have been observed where the motor nerve attaches to and communicates with muscle, also known as the neuromuscular junction (NMJ). An intact NMJ is essential for normal muscle function and movement. Early in ALS, the NMJ begins to pull away and disconnect from muscle leading to paralysis. Currently, there are no medications known to prevent these changes. We are developing a therapy for ALS targeted to treat the NMJ, using mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) that over-secrete insulin-like growth factor I (IGF). IGF is a potent growth hormone with properties known to stabilize the NMJ and protect the motor nerve from death. MSC are adult stem cells found within bone marrow. These cells can be expanded, engineered to over-secrete IGF, and injected into skeletal muscle where increased levels of IGF can improve the health and promote retention of the NMJ. If effective, this therapy has the potential to slow disease progression, maintain muscle strength and function, and improve the quality-of-life for those living with ALS.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes severe disability, as those diagnosed with ALS inevitably lose muscle function and will transition from independent to dependent living. In California, approximately 2000 people live with ALS at any one time; however, ALS does not just affect patients. Due to the relentless course of ALS, family, friends and the greater community will necessarily provide essential basic daily care for their loved ones, making it a costly disease both in terms of patient life-years lost and caregiver burden. In addition, there are no effective treatments available to slow the functional losses suffered from ALS and many dollars are spent annually on unproven therapies by those hoping and searching for a cure.
Our proposed therapy, aimed at maintaining the connection between muscle and motor neurons, has the potential to slow the functional decline of ALS. It is a novel therapy combining the healing properties of mesenchymal stem cells with insulin-like growth factor 1, a potent neurotrophic agent that has been shown to slow disease in animal models of ALS. California will benefit directly from the research and development of this stem cell therapy not only by providing a treatment for ALS where one does not exist, but socioeconomically by creating valuable jobs and training for scientists and students, and by becoming a treatment destination for those around the world fighting ALS.