Laying a foundation for treating ALS, spinal cord injury

This story starts in 1955, upon the death of Albert Einstein, when the pathologist charged with performing the famous scientist’s autopsy stole his brain. Fast forward to the 1980s when a University of California, Berkeley scientist was studying parts of the stolen goods involved in complex thinking and discovered that the father of relativity had more of certain types of cells, called astrocytes, than other human brains studied.

ALS community suddenly awash in awareness

If you hadn’t heard of ALS before this summer, you’re not alone. If you haven’t heard of it by now, you must be living under a rock. Not only did the ubiquitous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raise about $100 million from late July to late August, it boosted awareness of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Engineered stem cells carry promising ALS therapy

“The novelty is that this is a combined cell and gene therapy approach,” Suzuki explains, noting that the bone marrow stem cells on their own had a modest effect, possibly by releasing their own protective factors. “But only when we engineered the cells to release GDNF did we see a significant improvement. The cells turned out to be quite an important component. It’s this combination of cells and drug delivery that seems to be so effective.”

$7.2 million grant to aid search for ALS stem cell therapy

With the help of a $7.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers will explore the potential of stem cells and natural growth factors to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.