Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) was brought to global attention over the past year by the widely-shared “Ice Bucket Challenge.”
What is ALS?
Also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It is a fatal diagnosis, and 90% of cases are people with “sporadic ALS,” meaning that they do not have any other family members with the disease. According to the ALS Association, the cause of sporadic ALS is not well understood, but may be due to a combination of environmental and genetic risk factors. Anyone can get ALS, although most are between ages 40 – 70; about 20% more men than women. Caucasians and military veterans are also more likely to be struck with the disease.
Ice Bucket Challenge
The Ice Bucket Challenge began in 2014 as a way to raise awareness and funds for ALS research and treatments. Everyone from children to celebrities made videos of having buckets of ice water poured over their heads, challenging others to do the same and donate money to ALS. The Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media, brought awareness of the disease to the forefront of conversations, and raised over $115 million dollars (and counting!) for the cause.
Cord Blood Stem Cell Research
Currently, scientists are researching potential opportunities for the use of stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood to treat ALS. The ALS Association explains, “Researchers at the University of South Florida showed that infusion of mononuclear cells from human umbilical cord blood could modestly prolong the lifespan and delay onset of disease in SOD1 mutant mice. The effect due to the cell infusion may be due to changing the activity of the immune system modulation, in addition to anti-inflammatory effects.”
Research is still at relatively early stages and has not yet been studied in humans. Still, scientists are hopeful that cord blood stem cells will someday provide needed therapies to those suffering with ALS.