After this past summer’s ALS ice-bucket challenge took the world by storm, many more people than ever are aware of this fatal neurodegenerative disease. According to the ALS Association, the effort resulted in raising over $100 million, an astonishing 3500% increase over the year before, for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, named for the famed NY Yankees first baseman who succumbed to ALS just shy of his 38th
birthday. The challenge raised not just money but visibility to help find treatments and a cure for ALS.
Brain Disease in Professional Football
Research shows that professional football players may be at a higher risk of death from diseases that damage the cells in the brain, such as Alzheimer’s and ALS compared to the general U.S. population. A study of 3,439 players with an average age of 57 from the National Football League with at least five playing seasons from 1959-1988, found that professional football players were three times more likely to die as a result of diseases that damage brain cells compared to the general population. A player’s risk of death from Alzheimer’s disease or ALS was almost four times higher than the general population[i]
Mesenchymal stem cells
But hope is on the horizon. Stem cells, specifically mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs,) stem cells found in tissue, have emerged as a major tool for research into the causes of ALS and in the research for new treatments. MSCs are found in adipose (fat tissue), peripheral blood, bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, umbilical cord tissue and placental tissue. Human umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hUCB-MSCs) are being studied as a potential therapeutic tool to prevent various neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s.[ii]
They have also recently emerged as a promising source of stem and progenitor cells for use in other novel cell therapies.[iii]
MSCs derived from umbilical cord blood and umbilical cord tissue are a safe, easily collected, readily available, and noncontroversial source of stem cells.
Not long ago, Cryo-Cell International provided funding to complete an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) for an FDA approved Phase I clinical trial for patients with ALS using umbilical cord blood cells. This funding was made through an additional investment in Cryo-Cell’s cell therapy research affiliate, Saneron CCEL Therapeutics, Inc. The hope is that the IND will lead to regenerative therapies using cord blood to treat devastating neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. The study will involve the administration of U-CORD-CELL®, Saneron’s proprietary mononuclear enriched cell fraction of umbilical cord blood to be processed in Cryo-Cell’s GMP laboratory. Saneron’s sponsored preclinical studies using U-CORD-CELL® have demonstrated efficacy in various disease models including: ALS, stroke, myocardial infarction, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Today, the off the field action is what’s game changing. Rules, technique, technology and medical research are all coalescing, advancing both safety and treatments for those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. The NFL has funded tens of millions of dollars in grants for research on brain injuries together with efforts to improve the health and safety of not only football players, but all athletes, members of the military, and the general public.
Stem cell research is moving at an even faster clip. Advances in the field of translational stem cell therapy will continue to gain momentum and we are poised to maximize the potential of cellular therapies to provide much-needed treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.[iv]
For those former NFL players battling neurodegenerative diseases, for anyone fighting the battle, stem cell research and treatments will continue to advance long after these athletes have hung up their cleats for the last time.
“Study Shows NFL Players Four Times More Likely to Die from ALS; NFL Donates $30 Million to NIH for Research on Brain Injuries.” – The ALS Association.
N.p., 5 Sept. 2012. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. The original study appeared in the online edition of Neurology
Lee, Hyun Ju et all. "The Therapeutic Potential of Human Umbilical Cord Blood-derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Alzheimer's Disease | DeepDyve." DeepDyve
. N.p., 12 Mar. 2010. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.
Sun, Jessica M., and Joanne Kurtzberg. "Download PDFs." Emerging Uses of Cord Blood in Regenerative Medicine-Neurological Applications
. N.p., 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.
[iv] Lunn, J. Simon, Stacey A. Sakowski, Junguk Hur, and Eva L. Feldman. "Stem Cell Technology for Neurodegenerative Diseases." Annals of Neurology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2011. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.