Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive disease affecting the functioning of motor neurons involved in voluntary muscle movement. As with most neurodegenerative diseases, it cannot be cured; however, advanced cell-based therapies have shown promising results in delaying disease progression, and improving patients’ quality of life.
Let’s learn more about ALS causes, symptoms, and treatments, and the promises cell-based therapy holds for managing the disease symptoms.
Get a free and confidential online consultation with our medical adviser to discuss your case of the disease and learn about the expected results of stem cell therapy, the cost and duration of the therapy, and what the treatment plan may include.
What are the symptoms and causes of ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as classical motor neuron disease, affects both types of motor neurons classified as:
- Upper motor neurons (nerves within the brain carrying the impulses for movement).
- Lower motor neurons (nerves originating from the spinal cord or brainstem travelling to the associated muscles).
The disorder causes rapid loss of muscle control and eventual paralysis. At the same time, ALS doesn’t affect non-motor neurons like sensory neurons or those responsible for mental faculties.
Current medical research has shown that multiple complex factors could be the cause of death of motor neurons. These factors include:
- Metabolic dysfunctions.
- Free radical injury.
- Autoimmune and inflammatory mechanisms.
- Viral infection.
- Gene defects.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction.
- Protein accumulation.
ALS symptoms and treatment may vary from person to person since each individual loses a different proportion of upper and lower motor neurons.
Early and later symptoms of ALS?
ALS is recognised as a multisystem neurodegenerative disorder, meaning that many patients also show non-motor symptoms including executive, behavioural and speech issues.
Most patients suffering from this disease experience the following common symptoms:
- Weakness in muscles around hands, arms, or legs;
- Reduced ability to use arms and legs;
- Frequent twitching or muscle cramping within hand and feet muscles;
- Difficulty in speech, swallowing, or breathing due to weakness of muscles;
- Slow or slurred speech.
Patients with an advanced stage of ALS suffer from:
- Shortness of breath;
- Difficulty talking;
- Problems with chewing and swallowing food;
- Muscle stiffness;
- Paralysis of voluntary muscles;
- Heart complications;
- Respiratory problems.
Please, contact our medical advisor to discuss your health condition with a specialist in regenerative medicine, or leave your contact details for a callback. It is free and confidential.
What are the complications of ALS?
Some potential ALS complications include:
- Difficulty in breathing;
- Respiratory failure;
- Loss of speech;
- Muscle weakness leading to falls and fractures;
- Liquid food entering the lungs;
- Malnutrition leading to weight loss;
- Pulmonary emboli.
How is ALS diagnosed?
Diagnosing this syndrome can be challenging because no test can identify this heterogeneous disorder (meaning it may have several root causes). The diagnosis usually involves ruling out other diseases and health conditions through various tests.
A typical ALS diagnosis involves the following procedures and examinations:
- Electromyogram (EMG). This test evaluates the electrical activity of the muscles to diagnose or rule out the possibility of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
- Nerve conduction study. The test serves to measure the patient’s nerve’s ability to send impulses to various muscles within the body. This helps verify if the patient has nerve damage or a specific nerve or muscle disease.
- MRI. MRI is conducted to observe brain and spinal cord images via radio waves and a strong magnetic field. This test helps rule out spinal cord tumors, herniated disks in the neck, or other conditions leading to ALS-like symptoms.
- Blood and urine tests. These basic tests are performed to rule out other conditions or ailments that could be causing the symptoms.
- Other tests. These may include muscle or nerve biopsy, spinal tap, and neurological examination which are also conducted to understand the root of the symptoms better.
How is ALS treated?
Unfortunately, no particular treatment for ALS patients can cure the disease symptoms altogether or even significantly reverse them. Researchers across the globe are looking for effective ALS treatment options that can improve the symptoms substantially and prolong a patient’s life. Riluzole and edaravone, both of these FDA-approved medications, have been found to be effective in slowing down the disease progression. However, they are known to have a number of side effects that adversely affect the health of a patient.
Meanwhile, several non-medication therapies and interventions are employed to manage ALS symptoms and help patients live their independent and quality lives as long as possible. These include treatment based on stem cells which are able to treat the suffering areas, rejuvenate the whole body and make it healthier.
Complementary therapies applied for ALS patients
Stem cell therapy is not the only form of treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Doctors evaluate and prescribe different treatment plans depending on the stage of the disease and the severity of neurons’ degeneration. Before ALS disease stem cell research, the following complementary therapies were:
Diet and nutritional supplements
ALS patients experience stable weight loss and reduced muscle tone. It makes them vulnerable to other viral and bacterial diseases. Using a high-fat or high-carb diet can positively affect gaining weight. Many ALS warriors also take multiple dietary supplements to improve their functioning. Most commonly, doctors suggest the Deanna Protocol therapy, a combination of foods and nutritional supplements.
ALS patients are prescribed cannabis to relieve muscle pain and reduce spasticity (stiffness or paralysis of muscles). It also increases appetite in patients. It is used through vaporizing, ingesting oils or using food containing cannabinoids.
This traditional Chinese medical procedure uses thin needles to manipulate the body’s energy centers through certain anatomical points. The acupuncture approach is effective in managing muscle-related pain and providing relief from disabling symptoms.
Why is treating ALS challenging?
With more understanding of ALS and its complexity, researchers have come to the realization that this disorder itself is not a single disease entity but rather a combination of disorders that can be better explained as a syndrome.
Researchers’ ability to develop efficient therapies to slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is hampered by this heterogeneity. There is still no specific method aimed at all groups of symptoms common to the disorder. Basically, each therapy affects one specific sign, making ALS disease treatment quite challenging. In this paradigm, stem cell therapy can provide a new solution for disease management due to its diverse therapeutic properties.
How patients with ALS may benefit from stem cells?
Cell-based therapy inherently targets various pathogenic mechanisms to slow down disease progression and improve the overall quality of life for ALS patients.
In particular, stem cells secrete neurotrophic factors and stimulate the differentiation of non-neuronal cells like astrocytes and microglia, and restore synapses between motor neurons.
Stem therapy also provides both neurotrophic and immunomodulatory support while simultaneously helping the regeneration of motor neurons, improving learning and memory abilities, as well as motor symptoms (tremors, stiffness, and movement difficulties).
The scientific basis of stem cell treatment in ALS
A meta-review of clinical trials and research examined the safety and efficacy of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to treat underlying symptoms of the disorder. The study showed that patients treated with MSCs exhibited improved muscle strength and functioning. Moreover, no adverse post-treatment side effects were observed, making the approach worth considering. Comparing stem cell therapy against other available treatment options, researchers found it has a significant effect on slowing down disease progression and improving the quality of life among affected patients. Thus, cell-based therapy can be considered a potential treatment for the disease.
Outcomes of stem cell therapy in patients with ALS
Overall, the therapeutic properties of stem cells provide:
- Stimulation of neoangiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels).
- Enhancement of neuromuscular conduction and neuromuscular transmission, resulting in improvement of muscle strength in the weak extremities.
- Normalization of metabolic processes, including neurometabolism.
- Improvement of endothelial function, and atherosclerosis prevention.
- Systemic anti-inflammatory effect.
- General improvement of tissue regeneration, and activation of the body’s own stem cells.
Due to their capability to address complex disease development via multiple mechanisms, stem cells may hold much more promise for ALS syndrome treatment and slow down the progression of the disease than any other drug or intervention.
Benefits of customized ALS treatment program at the clinic
Some potential advantages of undergoing ALS treatment at the Clinic are:
- Accurate diagnosis. Through diagnosis via consultations and tests, our specialists devise a more personalized and effective plan that caters to your unique condition and symptoms.
- Several routes of cell drug delivery (intravenous infusions, intramuscular injections, and intranasal administration) are applied in order to enhance the effect of the therapy and target all groups of symptoms.
- Different types of cell-based products (including cultivated multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells from different sources, and their exosomes and secretomes).
- Understanding the effects of the disease. Our experts determine the manifestation and progression of the disease to devise improved and individually corrected treatment procedures.
- Additional therapies to support the therapeutic effects of administered cells. These may include:
- Super Inductive System (SIS) — High-intensity electromagnetic field, which positively influences the tissues of the body. It relieves pain, increases the mobility of the joints, accelerates fracture healing, and relaxes or strengthens muscles.
- Electrotherapy — Provides anti-inflammatory effect, reduces chronic and acute pain, increases muscle tone and peripheral blood circulation, and shortens the rehabilitation period of the main therapy.
- Lymphatic drainage therapy — Improves the circulation of the lymph throughout the body, increases blood flow, and helps remove waste and toxins from the body’s tissues.
- Post-ALS treatment care and monitoring. After the treatment, the patient is actively monitored for treatment response, disease progression, and overall improved health outcomes.
- Additional services are provided, including visa support, interpreter, transfer from/to the airport, personal accommodation of a patient with a relative at the Clinic, etc.
To learn about ALS treatment cost and efficacy for your personal case, please contact a specialist at the Clinic.
Get a free and confidential online consultation with our medical adviser to discuss your case of the disease and learn about the expected results.
List of References
Brotman RG, Moreno-Escobar MC, Joseph J, et al. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. [Updated 2022 Aug 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556151/
Tefera, T. W., & Borges, K. (2017). Metabolic Dysfunctions in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Pathogenesis and Potential Metabolic Treatments. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2016.00611
Zayia LC, Tadi P. Neuroanatomy, Motor Neuron. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554616/
Moreno, M. L., Barrios, C., Enrique, J., & Drehmer, E. (2020). Antioxidant Alternatives in the Treatment of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Comprehensive Review. Frontiers in Physiology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2020.00063
McCombe, P. A., & Henderson, R. D. (2011). The Role of immune and inflammatory mechanisms in ALS. Current molecular medicine, 11(3), 246–254. https://doi.org/10.2174/156652411795243450
Zhao, J., Wang, X., Huo, Z., Chen, Y., Liu, J., Zhao, Z., Meng, F., Su, Q., Bao, W., Zhang, L., Wen, S., Wang, X., Liu, H., & Zhou, S. (2022). The Impact of Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Cells, 11(13). https://doi.org/10.3390/cells11132049
Ari, C., Poff, A. M., Held, H. E., Landon, C. S., Goldhagen, C. R., & Mavromates, N. (2014). Metabolic Therapy with Deanna Protocol Supplementation Delays Disease Progression and Extends Survival in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Mouse Model. PLoS ONE, 9(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103526
Paganoni S, et al. Trial of sodium phenylbutyrate-taurusodiol for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. New England Journal of Medicine. 2020; doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1916945.
Wijesekera, L.C., Nigel Leigh, P. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Orphanet J Rare Dis 4, 3 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1186/1750-1172-4-3
Masrori, P., & Van Damme, P. (2020). Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: a clinical review. European journal of neurology, 27(10), 1918–1929. https://doi.org/10.1111/ene.14393
Aljabri, A., Halawani, A., Bin Lajdam, G., Labban, S., Alshehri, S., & Felemban, R. (2021). The Safety and Efficacy of Stem Cell Therapy as an Emerging Therapy for ALS: A Systematic Review of Controlled Clinical Trials. Frontiers in Neurology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2021.783122
Kiernan, M. C., Vucic, S., Cheah, B. C., Turner, M. R., Eisen, A., Hardiman, O., Burrell, J. R., & Zoing, M. C. (2011). Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Lancet (London, England), 377(9769), 942–955. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61156-7
Medical Advisor, Swiss Medica doctor
Medical Advisor, Swiss Medica doctor