Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Stem Cell Research
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neuromuscular disease caused by the degeneration of the motor neurons in the cerebral motor cortex as well as those in the brain stem and spinal cord (Miller, Gelinas, & O’Connor, 2004). Motor neurons are nerve cells responsible for voluntary movement such as walking, talking, swallowing, and breathing. When the upper motor neurons located in the cerebral motor cortex begin to degenerate their connection to the lower motor neurons is disrupted. This causes the muscles to weaken and spasm. The lower motor neuron degeneration disrupts nerve contact with the muscles and leads to deterioration or muscle atrophy. Early symptoms of ALS include trouble breathing, muscle weakness, and muscles spasms. Eventually a person affected by ALS will be unable to use their arms or legs, speak or swallow. When the connection between the neurons and muscles responsible for breathing are disrupted, the person will die of respiratory failure (Committee on the Review of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Veterans, 2006).
As technology has advanced, a new possibility in curing ALS has been discovered. Quite possibly the most controversial medical breakthrough in history, the use of stem cells may be the cure to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
The ALS Association’s Senior Vice-President of Research and Development, Lucie Bruijn said this:
“What are stem cells? Stem cells are cells that have the ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and give rise to multiple specialized cell types. They can develop into blood, bone, brain, muscle, skin and other organs. Embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to form any adult cell… The discovery that human embryonic stem cells can be isolated and propagated in culture with the potential of developing into all tissues of the body is a major medical breakthrough.”
Embryonic stem cells...