For the past 4 weeks, I have been working on an independent research project in which I found out how different kinds of stem cells could be used to treat ALS and gave my opinion on whether stem cells could realistically be used to treat ALS in the future. I chose to do my research on this because stem cells are known to have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases and because ALS is an interesting condition to talk about. As this is my first post on this topic, I will mainly be talking about what ALS is in this post and in my next post I will be talking about the different types of stem cells that could be used to treat ALS.
So what is ALS? ALS, which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis but is also known as motor neurone disease (MND)/Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord that provide voluntary movements and muscle control. It can affect adults of all ages but it is usually diagnosed in people over 40 and most people develop early symptoms in their 60s. In the UK, about 2 in every 100,000 people are affected each year. The motor neurons become unable to function and as a result they eventually die. This causes the brain to be unable to initiate and control muscle movement. Voluntary muscle action is progressively affected, which makes it harder to do common activities such as speaking, eating, moving and breathing.
Types of ALS:
- Sporadic- this is the most common type of ALS
- Familial- this is when the gene mutation for ALS is inherited.
There are several symptoms, which usually follow a pattern with 3 stages:
- the initial stage: limb-onset disease, bulbar-onset disease and respiratory-onset disease
- the advanced stage: symptoms such as muscular symptoms and excessive yawning
- the end stage: increasing body paralysis and shortness of breath
Secondary symptoms such as insomnia and depression can also occur as a result of the stress of living with ALS.
At the moment, there is no cure for ALS but treatment can help relieve symptoms and help slow down the disease’s progression.