Emory University researchers are participating in a groundbreaking clinical trial to treat patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) using human neural stem cells.
The Phase 1 trial, approved in 2009 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is studying the safety of stem cells, and the surgical procedures and devices required, for multiple injections of the cells directly into the spinal cord.
“This is the first U.S. clinical trial of stem cell injections into the spinal cord for the treatment of ALS,” says Jonathan Glass, MD, professor of neurology, Emory School of Medicine, and director of the Emory ALS Center and principal investigator (PI) of the clinical trial site.
“Our main goal in this early phase is to determine whether it is safe to inject stem cells into the spinal cord and whether the cells themselves are safe,” says Glass.
Scientists say the stem cells will not generate new motor neurons, but may help protect the still-functioning motor neurons and slow the progression of the disease.
Since the trial began in January, three patients with ALS have received injections. Up to 12 individuals will be enrolled in the first phase of the trial.
Nicholas Boulis, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory School of Medicine, and a pioneer in developing surgical methods for delivery of therapeutics to the spinal cord, is performing the surgical procedures. Eva Feldman, MD, PhD, director of research at the University of Michigan Health System ALS Clinic, is the overall PI of the ALS clinical trials program.
“I am confident this study is taking therapies for the spinal cord to a new level,” says Boulis. “Depending on the success of this initial trial, there will be a follow-up phase II trial or a modified phase I trial that utilizes the techniques of surgical implementation.”
According to the ALS Association, approximately 30,000 Americans have ALS at any given time and patients with the disease usually die within two to five years of diagnosis.