Medical Minute 12-13: Stem Cells for ALS: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

By: Melissa Medalie Email
By: Melissa Medalie Email

"I can't do nothing. I'm just not made that way."

55-year-old Tom Elliott is not a quitter. He has ALS. He fights to keep up with the daily routines of his life even as the disease makes everything harder.

"Brushing the teeth has become a real chore. Turning and rolling in bed to get comfortable has become an impossibility. This disease is about having to give up and sacrifice a lot," said Tom Elliot.

As ALS progresses, it destroys the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement, until ...

"They cease to be able to move, they become essentially locked in their bodies," said Nicholas Boulis, M.D., Neurosurgeon at Emory University.

Dr. Nicholas Boulis and his team at Emory University helped develop an experimental approach to treating ALS implanting stem cells called human neuro-progenitors directly into the spinal cord.

"We want to put those cells right next to those dying motor neurons in the hopes that those cells will provide protection and restoration of function, keep those cells alive, make 'em stronger," said Nicholas Boulis, M.D.

It's the first ever U.S. clinical trial of its kind.

"I'm optimistic that we can do this safely. I'm optimistic that we'll have opened the door to a world of opportunities," said Nicholas Boulis, M.D.

Tom is one of the first to have stem cells injected into his spinal cord, a procedure with high risk and no promises. Doctors say the stem cells won't generate new neurons but may help protect the still functioning motor neurons and slow the progression of the disease.

"Maybe in the near or far future we'll be able to manage the disease better, and then perhaps one day cure it," said Tom Elliot.

Meanwhile, Tom will keep fighting as long as he can.

For more information, contact: Emory Health Connection(404) 778-7777


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