Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease in which motor neurons are irreversibly destroyed. It is a debilitating illness and, unfortunately, progressive, irreversible, and currently incurable.
People who develop ALS lose movement in voluntary muscles like those in their arms and legs. As the disease progresses, they also start having difficulty in speaking and swallowing and eventually need mechanical ventilation for breathing.
But, there is no specific ALS disease progression timeline, and the speed of progression varies from patient to patient. Approximately 50% of patients die within 30 months of their initial symptoms. Almost 20% of patients live between 5 to 10 years, and only 10% live more than ten years from the start of their symptoms.
Fortunately, stem cell treatment shows great promise and immediate results for helping people who struggle with ALS.
Stages of ALS Progression
Although there is no specific ALS disease progression timeline, it does have certain stages. The disease can be divided into early, middle, and late stages.
The early stage has mild symptoms and usually happens much earlier than when the diagnosis is made. In this stage, the patient might have muscle twitching, tightness, easy fatigability, and weakness in focused groups of muscles. They can also start having difficulty performing tasks like buttoning up their shirt.
Patients with the bulbar variant of ALS initially do not have limb weakness but rather difficulty speaking and chewing.
In the middle stage, the symptoms are much worse and involve more parts of the body. In this stage, walking and daily tasks become much more challenging. There is also a higher risk of choking in such patients as they have difficulty chewing and swallowing. Some muscles might even get atrophied during this stage.
The patient’s condition deteriorates quite drastically during this stage, and they have trouble sitting upright, breathing, and speaking.
Following the middle stage, the patient’s health deteriorates to a point where they need a feeding tube inserted directly into their stomach as they are unable to eat and meet their caloric requirement and are at a high risk of choking or aspirating food.
In the late stage of the disease, most of the patient’s voluntary muscles are paralyzed, including those involved in eating and speaking. Still, eye movements and bowel and urinary control are usually spared. They also start having further difficulty breathing and typically require mechanical ventilation. Patients in the late stage can not ambulate and need full-time caregivers.
Impact of ALS on the Nervous System
ALS is a disease that impacts upper and lower motor neurons. Motor neurons are nerve cells present in the spinal cord and brain that are involved in muscle movement. In patients with ALS, motor neurons get destroyed over time. Since they do not regenerate and keep getting destroyed, there is a loss of motor function and voluntary movement.
Some patients also show cognitive decline. Due to the ALS disease progression, patients also tend to become depressed.
Role of Stem Cells in ALS Disease Progression
Scientists still don’t know the exact mechanism of ALS, so finding a cure for the disease is significantly more complicated.
However, researchers are now looking into stem cells in the hope to, if not cure the disease, at least slow down ALS disease progression.
Stem cells can multiply into any type of cell based on the conditions provided to them. One idea is to use such stem cells to create more neurons, as neurons can not regenerate themselves. Another idea is for these stem cells to create other cells that reduce inflammation and act as immunomodulators that slow down the destruction of the preexisting neuronal cells.
The Crucial Role of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in ALS
Mesenchymal stem cells are stem cells extracted from the bone marrow and can not only regenerate into various cell types but also have anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties.
Scientists are trying to use mesenchymal stem cells to slow down and alter the progression of ALS symptoms and have even conducted some clinical trials that produced promising results where the disease progression slowed down dramatically, and some patients even improved.
Exploring the Promise of Stem Cells in ALS
ALS stem cell therapy is a promising treatment option and has the chance to make the future for patients a little brighter. You can learn more about what it entails and understand the exact process by consulting experts at Swiss Medica.
ALS is an excruciating disease for both the patient and their loved ones. ALS disease progression is usually so rapid that people are often paralyzed before they can even come to terms with their diagnosis fully.
Although the disease has a rather poor prognosis when patients do not receive proper help, researchers are actively trying to find new ways to improve the prognosis. And options like stem cell therapy are now being used in clinics like Swiss Medica to provide a better future for these patients.