Motor neuron disease is characterized by the slow death of motor neurons within the brainstem and spinal cord region, leading to the onset of neurological disorders. More than 100 genetic mutations have been found to be the leading cause of triggering MND. However, the cure is still unknown.
Advancements in stem cell therapies have offered new insights into diverse cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in disease development and effective treatment options. Over the years, stem cells have been the center of research for their regenerative abilities to heal and regenerate injured neuronal tissues and provide a conducive environment for protecting the existing neurons and glial cells from further damage.
In this article, we will dive deeper into MND symptoms, causes, medications, assistive therapies, and stem cell treatment MND as an effective option compared to traditional treatment approaches.
What is motor neuron disease (MND)
MND is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that targets motor neurons and their functioning leading to malfunctioning of the nerve cells that control voluntary human muscles. There’s no cure for this genetic mutation; however, many current treatment options help patients manage symptoms and their progression and maintain a quality life.
Definition and types
MND is a neurological disease affecting a patient’s motor neurons, causing stiffness, restricted movements, loss of control, and in extreme cases, paralysis.
Motor neuron disease can result in various conditions, some of which are:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This progressive disorder affects the upper and lower motor neurons, leading to weakened muscles and difficulty in speaking and breathing.
- Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). This genetic disorder particularly targets lower motor neurons, affecting muscle strength and voluntary movements, leading to muscle atrophy.
- Progressive bulbar palsy (PBP). PBP affects the neurons responsible for speech and swallowing, leading to difficulty breathing, speaking, and swallowing among patients.
- Primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). PLS is an upper neuron disorder that causes muscle stiffness, spasticity, and weakness.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease and the most common type of MND affecting 1 in every 50,000 people. The condition causes the death of motor neurons within the brain and spinal cord, resulting in loss of voluntary movements and other disabilities. It is still unknown what triggers the disorder, but researchers believe it to be a combination of both genetics and the external environment.
ALS symptoms can include:
- muscle weakness and twitching;
- difficulty in swallowing and speaking;
- difficulty in controlling voluntary movements.
Although ALS is terminal, symptoms can be managed by certain treatments and therapies.
Symptoms and their progression
In case of death of upper motor neurons, patients experience symptoms like:
- Muscle stiffness and spasticity
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble performing fine motor skills
- Abnormal reflexes
- Altered muscle tone
- Difficulty in balancing and coordination
In lower motor neuron syndrome, patients experience:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle shrinking
- Muscle twitching and cramping
- Lower reflexes
- Muscle atrophy
- Difficulty in speaking and swallowing
- Struggle breathing
Since MND is a progressive disorder, most patients notice symptoms worsening over time; however, the disease progression varies from person to person. In earlier stages, one may experience muscle weakness spreading to various body parts. With the advancement in disease, patients experience severe symptoms like muscle atrophy leading to weakness and shortness of breath, leading to respiratory failure.
Causes and risk factors
The pathophysiology of MND is still unknown however, some major risk factors that have been found to be main contributors towards the onset are:
- Inherited genetic mutations.
- Exposure to environmental factors like toxins and chemicals.
- Age, i.e., typically people between the ages of 40-70.
- Gender, i.e., males are more likely to develop MND than women.
- Other factors, i.e., medical history, viral infections, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction.
Current treatments for motor neuron diseases
Motor neuron diseases are untreatable, and current treatment options only help manage symptoms, improve quality of life, and sometimes slow down disease progression.
Let’s look at prominent treatment options used to manage the disease’s symptoms.
MND patients are mostly prescribed medications like muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and antispasmodics to manage muscle cramps, spasticity, and pain.
Some assistive devices being used to manage MND symptoms are:
- Mobility aids, such as canes and wheelchairs, to maintain mobility and balance;
- Communication aids in communicating effectively;
- Respiratory aids such as non-invasive ventilation and invasive ventilation for ease of breathing;
- Adaptive equipment to allow independence in daily activities;
- Home modifications, such as stair lifts and wheelchair ramps.
Physical therapy is paramount for managing MND symptoms and improving life quality. For instance:
- A personalized exercise plan can help improve muscle strength and range of motion.
- Stretching helps improve muscle tone and flexibility.
- Hot and cold therapy and massage help relieve pain.
- Breathing exercises relieve respiratory functions.
The goal of treatments, and why managing MND is challenging
Most treatment options only target managing symptoms and improving an individual’s quality of life via medications, assistive devices, and physical therapy.
Motor neuron disease is hard to manage due to its complex and multifaceted nature. The disease affects muscles, nerves, and the respiratory system with varying severity and progression rate. Treatment for this kind of disease requires a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach that targets each symptom and provides psychological and social support.
A promising approach. How are stem cells used to treat motor neuron disease?
Motor neuron disease, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is currently treated using stem cell therapy. These cells can promote the regeneration of motor neurons and prevent their further damage.
Two approaches are being used to treat MND, which are:
- Replacement therapy. In stem cell treatment for motor neuron disease, the stem cells are programmed to differentiate into motor neurons and transplanted into the brain or spinal cord, where they integrate into the existing neural network. This option is still being researched.
- Protective therapy. This therapy is used to deliver stem cells intravenously or intrathecal into the patient’s body where they demonstrate neuroprotective effects to existing neurons. The stem cells are known to secrete growth factors that support and protect existing neurons from further damage. This method is studied in clinical trials.
While motor neuron disease stem cell treatment is still under investigation, it has been classified as the potential treatment for treating MND symptoms with promising results in patients who have already undergone this type of therapy.
What type of improvements can be expected from stem cell therapy?
Stem cell therapy helps patients to improve disease symptoms, increase the quality of life, and slow down disease progression by:
- promoting the growth of new motor neurons;
- supporting the survival of the existing neurons;
- releasing anti-inflammatory molecules to protect and repair damaged neurons.
Some hormones and growth factors released by stem cells for improving MND symptoms are:
- Brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF). They promote the growth and survival of motor neurons.
- Insulin-like growth factor 1. This hormone protects neurons from damage and supports their survival.
- Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor. This protein helps promote the growth and survival of motor neurons.
- Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a protein that promotes new blood vessel growth to improve blood flow in the affected areas.
Patient’s results with cell-based treatment at the Clinic
Colin M., Scotland, MND
Colin M. from Scotland started experiencing muscle weakness in his legs and difficulty maintaining balance and coordination. At first, he thought it to be a muscle cramp, but later, after diagnosis, he found out his condition to be motor neuron disease. For his motor neuron disease stem cell treatment at Swiss Medica, he received intravenous stem cell infusions along with regular physiotherapy and is now able to walk and coordinate his movements much better. The treatment didn’t cure his symptoms altogether but allowed him to manage his symptoms and lead an independent life.
Iosif T., România, ALS
Iosif T. from Romania was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2021. He decided to get his treatment from Swiss Medica on a previous patient’s recommendation. 3-months after receiving his 7-day stem cell treatment MND, IMR therapy, and physiotherapy, he gained stability and strength in his right foot and leg and noticed reduced fasciculations in the right leg.
Get in touch with our experts right away to learn more about the cost, duration, and anticipated outcomes of your therapy.
Process of stem cell therapy
Cell-based therapy at Swiss Medica utilizes mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to manage motor neuron disease symptoms. The process involves collecting stem cells from blood, bone marrow, or other sources, followed by separation and cultivation to the required amount. These concentrated stem cells or their exosomes are injected intravenously, intramuscularly, or intrathecally into the affected parts.
Millions of stem cells migrate to the selected site to heal, repair, and generate new neural cells while supporting the existing ones. Apart from stem cell treatment MND, patients also receive IMR therapy and physiotherapy to support injected stem cells and help them regain strength in the affected body muscles. The results are most visible in 2-3 months after the treatment.
Indications and contraindications for cell therapy for MND
Indications for cell therapy for MND are:
- The therapy is most effective for patients in the early to mid-stage disease, as the motor neurons are not entirely lost.
- Motor neuron disease stem cell treatment helps slow down the disease progression in patients that experience rapid progressive MND.
- The therapy is recommended for patients that observe no visible effects from common treatment approaches, or those who face its side effects.
- Patients experiencing advanced symptoms of MND may not observe major differences after the stem treatment.
- Patients with severe respiratory impairment might not be qualified for the treatment because of treatment intolerance.
- Patients with several conditions like cancer or heart disease may not qualify for the procedure.
Get a free online consultation to find out if stem cell therapy will work for your case of the disease, and what are the possible improvements.
Success rate and potential risks of stem cell-based therapy
Stem cells as a regenerative medicine are still under investigation for their potential benefits for several neurological conditions. Some of the benefits of stem cell treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis include:
- Significant improvements in muscle strength and functions;
- Slowed disease progression and delayed onset of severe symptoms;
- Reduced inflammations and oxidative stress;
- Regeneration of nervous tissues and cells.
Potential risk factors and side effects of stem cell therapy are:
- chest tightness, chest pain, and mild fever;
- hearing discomfort, headaches, and dizziness;
- altering neural circuits.
Advantages of stem cell therapy for motor neuron disease
Stem cell therapy may offer more significant health benefits than other treatment options. Some major benefits of motor neuron disease stem cell treatment include:
- Reduced disease progression.
- Regeneration of lost motor neurons and support to existing ones.
- Reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in the nervous system.
- Increased muscle strength and functioning.
- Reduced side effects from medications.
- Overall improved health and quality of life.
Are stem cell treatments appropriate for motor neuron disease?
Stem cell treatment for motor neuron disease is one of the safest option considering its potential risks and benefits. Additionally, several studies support stem cell transplantation as an effective therapy in providing neuroprotective and neurorestorative functions and thus managing MND symptoms.
Cost of stem cell therapy for motor neuron disease
For stem cell motor neuron disease, the cost of the treatment largely depends on several factors, like:
- Type of stem cells used
- Method of delivery
- Number of treatments
- Assistive therapies
Stem cell therapy for MND can be quite expensive, ranging from $15,000 to $45,000. However, to better understand the cost involved, we advise contacting our medical advisor with your medical history for a free consultation.
List of References
Goun Je, Kiandokht Keyhanian, Mehdi Ghasemi. (2021) Overview of stem cells therapy in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Neurological Research 43:8, pages 616-632.
Stephen A. Goutman, Masha G. Savelieff, Stacey A. Sakowski & Eva L. Feldman (2019). Stem cell treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a critical overview of early phase trials. Expert Opinion on Investigational Drugs, 28:6, 525-543.
De Gioia, R., Biella, F., Citterio, G., Rizzo, F., Abati, E., Nizzardo, M., … & Corti, S. (2020). Neural stem cell transplantation for neurodegenerative diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(9), 3103.
Foster, L. A., & Salajegheh, M. K. (2019). Motor neuron disease: pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management. The American Journal of Medicine, 132(1), 32-37.
Abati, E., Bresolin, N., Comi, G. P., and Corti, S. (2018). Preconditioning and cellular engineering to increase the survival of transplanted neural stem cells for motor neuron disease therapy. Mol. Neurobiol. 56, 3356–3367.
Darvishi, M., Tiraihi, T., Mesbah-Namin, S. A., Delshad, A., and Taheri, T. (2017). Motor neuron transdifferentiation of neural stem cell from adipose-derived stem cell characterized by differential gene expression. Cell Mol. Neurobiol. 37, 275–289.
Chaudhary, R., Agarwal, V., Rehman, M., Kaushik, A. S., & Mishra, V. (2022). Genetic architecture of motor neuron diseases. Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 434, 120099.
Wahid, S. F. A., Law, Z. K., Ismail, N. A., & Lai, N. M. (2019). Cell‐based therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (12).
Chan, H. J., Yanshree, Roy, J., Tipoe, G. L., Fung, M. L., & Lim, L. W. (2021). Therapeutic Potential of Human Stem Cell Implantation in Alzheimer’s Disease. International journal of molecular sciences, 22(18), 10151.
Medical Advisor, Swiss Medica doctor