ALS cure could be just ten years away

2:19 PM, Aug 25, 2011   |    comments
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(WZZM) - In just a few months Julia Bauer's daughter is getting married. The room fills with laughter and smiles while chatting about their future.

It's a much different from the future that lies ahead for Julia. She's been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS.

The first symptom came in the spring of 2007 while talking on the phone. "I realized I had skipped a word," said Julia. "I just had missed saying a word the way I normally would and I thought heh, wonder where that came from?"

Six months later Julia learned she had a form of the disease called Bulbar ALS. It affects the throat, palate, and voice, before affecting the rest of the body.

Julia's doctor told her it was only a matter of time before she would no longer be able to talk. "When she said I would lose my voice, she said to voice bank it."

The thought brings Julia to tears, and they are just as much for herself as they are for her children. Each of them has a 50% chance of having ALS. Julia has already lost a sister, a brother and a nephew to the disease.

At the University of Michigan, Dr. Eva Feldman is conducting research on embryonic stem cells and their role in finding a cure for ALS. "We're using stem cells that come from a three-week embryo that was donated to the National Institutes of Health. We've grown them in a special facility that's carefully overseen by the government," explains Dr. Feldman. 

It's part of a human clinical trial for the company Neuralstem and Dr. Feldman says it's showing great promise. "Everyone who was walking prior to the transplant continues to walk and that's important because you've seen how this disease progresses."

The embryonic stem cells are injected into the spine of an ALS patient and that's where the healing takes place. "Those stem cells surround the sick nerve cells and form connections with the sick nerve cells and nurse it to health."

And it begins in Dr. Feldman's lab.

The stem cells are kept refrigerated and there's something else interesting. They need to eat.  They need to be fed every day actually. Dr. Feldman says each embryonic stem cell starts out in a generic state and what they're fed determines what they will become. In the case of her research, nerve cells.

Dr. Feldman believes their research could find a cure for ALS in less than 10 years. "That's why we're so excited because things have really moved along very well."

But unfortunately not fast enough for Julia, who is busy modeling her mother of the bride dress and hugging her daughter.

But until then, Julia continues to be the voice for those who no longer have one. "Do what you can, while you can, because you are out there for people who can't."

And hope that a cure will come in time for one of her children.  

By Valerie Lego

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