UW-Madison research focuses on stem cells to treat ALS

Stem cells used to protect respiratory function

MADISON, Wis. - Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, is a devastating disease with no known cure or effective treatments. A research project at UW-Madison is working to change that.

“Our idea is to prevent the progression of the disease using the stem cells,” said Dr. Masatoshi Suzuki, an associate professor in the department of comparative biosciences.

The research is using the stem cells to interrupt the progression of the disease and protect the respiratory function.

ALS is a progressive disorder that leads to degeneration of the motor neurons.

“As a consequence of the motor neuron degeneration, patients develop progressive weakness, leading to eventual paralysis of all limbs, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and respiratory failure, which is the typical cause of death,” said Dr. Andrew Waclawik, a neurologist with UW Health specializing in ALS.

The stem cell research at UW-Madison focuses on protecting the respiratory function.

“Specifically to try to transplant the genetically modified stem cells into the diaphragm, and also the other types of the respiratory muscle groups to prevent the degeneration of the motor function,” said Dr. Suzuki.

The research is currently being done on rodents.  While there is no timetable to begin a human trial using this research, the importance of the work is not lost on physicians who treat ALS patients.

“We don’t have effective treatments.  That’s why it is so important to support researchers who do basic research in this field so we can have more effective treatments.  This includes the stem cell research,” said Dr. Waclawik.

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