ALS operation marks another step forward in stem cell research

A 50-year-old man from Trion, Georgia, is the first person to be injected with stem cells in the upper part of the spinal cord, making him yet another pioneer in the scientific quest to use stem cells to heal.

Richard Grosjean received the treatment Friday. He is part of an ongoing FDA-approved clinical trial that is testing the safety of injecting stem cells into the spinal cords of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease…

While the Grosjeans know this procedure is likely to be more helpful to others in the future who have to deal with this “horrible disease,” they have hope and faith that some good will come of this for them, too. In addition to praising Emory University, Tracie also praises her husband’s employer, Mount Vernon Mills, which she says has “bent over backwards” to keep him employed throughout his illness giving him a sense of purpose.

The cause of ALS is unknown, but the disease is fatal because nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain and spinal cord needed to tell muscles to move, waste away or die. Early in the disease, patients have difficulty speaking and walking, both symptoms Grosjean now has. Eventually, the disease cuts off communication between the brain and chest muscles, so patients can no longer breathe.

Most people die from respiratory failure, according the National Institutes of Health, and most patients die within three to five years of diagnosis…

In an operation than lasted about four hours, Grosjean received five injections into the cervical, or neck, area of his spinal cord, each delivering 100,000 cells. The cells came from Maryland-based biotech company Neuralstem, which is funding this clinical trial and devised a procedure to grow millions and millions of motor neuron cells from the donated spinal cord tissue of an 8-week-old aborted fetus.

These are not embryonic stem cells, like the ones used by California-based company Geron, which has injected cells grown from human embryonic stem cells into the spines of at least four patients with complete spinal cord injuries…

The cells in this ALS trial were taken from the spinal cord of the fetus, so they have already gone down the path of becoming nerve cells. Researchers are hoping to show that injecting neural stem cells — the precursors to nerve cells — into the spinal cord of ALS patients is safe.

Ultimately, the hope is that by injecting the cells into the neck, above the lungs, where the mostly deadly damage is done by ALS, these neural stem cells will reconnect communication from the brain to the muscles, keeping patients alive longer and maybe, one day, curing them.

But that is not the point of the trial at this time. At this point the goal is still to establish that injecting stem cells is safe for the patient, won’t cause more damage to the patient, and won’t lead to the patient reject the cells. Early data from the first 12 patients, who had injections in the lower back, shows this procedure is safe…

“Finally we’re beginning to inject cells into the segments that control the diaphragm, and to the extent that we are able to do that safely … this is where we keep people breathing,” Boulis said.

And that’s ultimately what this clinical trial is about.

Bravo. Reflect for a moment on the politicians and fools outside of Congress who would take away this potential avenue of healing someone simply on the basis of their belief in 14th Century superstitions. The Presidential Boob before Obama would have done so.

I credit Richard Grosjean and his wife, Tracie, for having the courage to join this experiment – for that is what it is. They know it isn’t likely to change much in the course of his own illness. It may bring an extension to the lives of those who follow. And that is a worthwhile goal for anyone who volunteers their own life – and end of life – in such a selfless manner.

2 thoughts on “ALS operation marks another step forward in stem cell research

  1. Stems says:

    Too bad they are not able to do a story on the persons life that ‘never was’ because they used them as stem cell treatment.

    I do believe in stem cell research as long as the stem cell is not from distroying fertilized human eggs. They can be from placenta material, etc.

    ALS is horrible and we need to cure it now.

  2. moss says:

    Don’t worry too hard about undeveloped zygotes talking to you in your sleep. Want to worry about life? Tell your favorite politician to stop waging war to keep us in oil.

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