WEDNESDAY, Jan. 9, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Stem cells may one day hold promise for a new treatment for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, new animal research suggests.
A study of mice found that stem cell transplantation extended their lifespan by 20 days and improved their neuromuscular function by 15 percent.
"There have been remarkable strides in stem cell transplantation when it comes to other diseases, such as cancer and heart failure," study author Dr. Stefania Corti, of the University of Milan in Italy, said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology.
"ALS is a fatal, progressive, degenerative disease that currently has no cure," Corti said. "Stem cell transplants may represent a promising avenue for effective cell-based treatment for ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases."
The mice involved in the study had an animal version of ALS. They were injected with human neural stem cells taken from human induced pluripotent stem cells -- adult cells genetically reprogrammed to resemble embryonic stem cells.
These injected stem cells traveled to the spinal cord of the mice, where they matured and multiplied, improving the rodents' lifespan and neuromuscular function.
"Our study shows promise for testing stem cell transplantation in human clinical trials," Corti concluded.
Results achieved in animal tests, however, do not necessarily apply to humans.
The study's findings, released Jan. 9, are scheduled for presentation in March at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in San Diego. Data and conclusions presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
People with ALS eventually lose their strength and cannot move or breathe. The American baseball player Lou Gehrig died of the disease in 1941.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides more information on Lou Gehrig's disease.