IU researcher Chandler Walker has developed a new stem cell-based therapy called secretome for treating Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which will likely be entering clinical trials this year or next.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that impacts the movement and physical function of those diagnosed. ALS attacks the body by causing the degeneration of upper motor neurons in the brain and lower motor neurons in the spine, Walker said.
“When you tell your hand to close, that’s utilizing this upper and lower motor neuron interaction,” Walker said. “In ALS, those specific neurons die, other types of neurons do not, so what you end up with is progressive paralysis and weakness.”
When ALS attacks motor neurons that regulate breathing, ALS becomes extremely dangerous, Walker said. Therapies like secretome have the potential to slow the progression of ALS. By protecting and regenerating these motor neurons, Walker said secretome will impede the onset of the disease.
Secretome is a molecule that is secreted by mesenchymal stem cells. Walker said experiments on mice and early clinical studies are underway. He hopes to enter clinical trials as soon as possible.
Siobhan Ellison, president of Neurodegenerative Disease Research Inc., helped secure funding for research about ALS. She said Walker’s research has a good shot at being able to get to patients soon.
“I think he’s now probably about four or five years out from having a therapy to go into patients,” Ellison said.
Clinical trials are often highly variable processes — so it would be impossible to make a definitive timeline — with both animal and human trials, as well as multiple processes of review. However, Ellison emphasized the importance of urgency in ALS research. As people live through its effects, getting treatment for patients is the number one priority, Ellison said.
Christen Mumaw, a laboratory manager at the IU School of Dentistry and research analyst with Walker’s team, highlighted the impact this therapy will have if it passes clinical trials.
“If it pans out, it’s going to be life-changing for lots of people,” Mumaw said. “One in 50,000 people are impacted by ALS so it could really make a big difference for those people.”
Mumaw said that secretome therapy has the potential to benefit other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Especially with things like Alzheimer’s disease, we all know somebody who is impacted,” Mumaw said. “I think neuroscience and neurodegenerative disorders as a whole are getting a lot more attention now.”