Breakthrough Results Announced in ALS Treatment

Jewish men walk in the rain toward the Hadassah hospital in Yerushalayim.(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Jewish men walk in the rain toward the Hadassah hospital in Yerushalayim.(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

In an announcement that gives hope to those suffering with ALS, researchers said that the most recent phase of experimental treatment for the disease has yielded “wonderful results.”

The revolutionary approach that uses adult stem cells for the progressive, fatal disorder — also known also as Lou Gehrig’s disease — was pioneered by Prof. Dimitrios Karousis, a Greek-born neurologist at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Yerushalayim’s Ein Kerem.

“Our results have shown that it [the treatment] is safe and well tolerated without any serious side-effects,” said Prof. Karousis. He added that the trials have yielded “impressive clinical effects,” with many patients experiencing a significant slowdown in the degenerative effects of the illness and some even showing a reversal of symptoms.

“It is not yet proof of a cure,” he said cautiously. However, Prof. Karousis was optimistic regarding the potential of the general use of stem cell injections saying, “I believe it is the beginning of a new age in the treatment of diseases affecting the brain.”

He added that, if proven successful, the “breakthrough” could be used to treat other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as stroke victims.

The announcements were made to mark the publication of the results of the treatment’s second stage of experimentation and were delivered at a press conference at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco.

Research began five years ago when Hadassah partnered with Brain Storm Cell Therapeutics, a biotechnology company with offices in America and Israel. Since then, trials have begun in America as well, at the Mayo Clinic and at Massachusetts General Hospital. They are set to be completed this summer.

The technique works by extracting stem cells from the patients themselves, eliminating the risk of rejection. The cells are then manipulated by researchers and injected into the spinal fluid.

Prof. Karousis said that so far his team has seen “significant effects within the first months that last for several months. Those who could not walk now can; those who could not talk or raise their hands now can.”

Besides this method, there is no other treatment for the illness which attacks the nervous system. Estimates say that 30,000 Americans are affected by the disease.