Project ALS scientists in the Wichterle Lab at Columbia University have made a crucial breakthrough in stem cell research. The recent study, published in Neuron, demonstrates the ability to construct basic spinal cord circuits in a dish from stem cells. As spinal circuitry is majorly compromised in ALS, this new practice has major implications for ALS. In Wichterle’s study, stem cells are directed to recapitulate normal spinal circuitry to a remarkable degree.
“This work has direct relevance to ALS as changes in motor circuits have been reported at early stages of the disease”, said Wichterle. This advancement is also the result of a Project ALS research discovery made in 2006 in which researchers, including Wichterle, discovered how to derive human motor neurons from stem cells.
“Stem cells–plus a team of really smart scientists–just provided us with better laboratory models of ALS brain circuitry,” said Valerie Estess, director of research for Project ALS. “Better models means better drug testing means better drugs for people with ALS.”
Motor neurons project out to the muscles in our limbs to drive muscle contraction, allowing us to speak, breathe, and move. These cells are housed