Scientists Discover Potential Cure for ALS

By: Bella Rudoy  |  November 2, 2022

By Bella Rudoy

My beloved great-uncle, who lived healthily for almost fifty years, suddenly found himself bedridden, unable to speak or use his body the way he used to. Within months, he lost all functionality and passed away soon after from ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It affects as many as 30,000 people in the United States, representing five out of every 1,000,000 deaths in people twenty or older. ALS is characterized by progressive degeneration of motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing muscular atrophy and cutting the patient’s life to only three years after being diagnosed. While there is little proof that ALS is genetic, there is hardly any evidence that lifestyle and diet have any effect on causing ALS either. Since it was identified in 1869 by Jean-Martin Charcot, scientists have been hard at work searching for a cure but have had few breakthroughs––until now.  

As of May 2022, the FDA has approved Edaravone for ALS treatment. It reduces oxidative stress, which is thought to be one of the causes of ALS. Unfortunately, while Edaravone slows the progression of ALS, it doesn’t completely stop the disease from progressing. Still, scientists are hopeful that this new drug is a step toward a cure. 

Because of the aging population, there is a projected increase in ALS development, causing a desperate scramble for alternative methods, such as stem cell therapy, to slow down and possibly cure ALS. Through stem cells’ ability to differentiate into different types of supportive cells in the central nervous system (CNS), such as microglia and astrocytes, they can slow down the degeneration of motor neurons within the CNS. Additionally, stem cell therapy can extract mesenchymal stem cells from an ALS patient’s bone marrow. These particular types of stem cells are then grown in cultures to become cells that secrete Neurotrophic Factor, a growth factor that allows nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to remain healthy and alive. 

A newly FDA-approved medicine called Relyvrio has shown promising results in slowing down the rate of decline in people suffering from ALS. In addition, Relyvrio has proven to help patients perform daily tasks and may help people with ALS live longer. Although not a complete cure, Relyvrio has been a significant help to patients unable to use their hands for simple tasks like picking up a cup. That being said, more studies and developments are needed to maximize this drug’s effects. 

Although these drugs have helped improve the quality of life for some ALS patients, many people are still suffering and losing the quality of their lives at a very young age. ALS research has come a long way over the years, but we are still far from an ultimate cure. Many people continue to work hard to help raise money to find a cure. For example, fundraisers, such as the ALS ice bucket challenge, a trend in which people were dumping ice water on their heads, posting a video to social media, and donating money to the ALS Foundation, raised over $100 million. The research funding created by these movements is needed more than ever to help patients with ALS––something I wish there had been more of before my great-uncle passed away.