Although the use of stem cells as a treatment for MND may eventually be possible, the general perception among scientists and clinicians is that research in this area is not yet sufficiently well advanced.

At present, there is no reliable evidence to suggest that stem cells can be used as an effective treatment for MND.

Numerous significant hurdles need to be overcome before stem cells can be considered a realistic option for treating the disease. There is no reliable evidence to support the claims made by the various clinics around the world currently offering stem cell treatment to people with MND.

The challenges

Researchers still do not understand exactly how stem cells might exert their beneficial effects for diseases such as MND.

Studies in animals that model MND have suggested that stem cell transplants are more likely to be effective in protecting existing motor neurones than in actually replacing or repairing them. This might be achieved by using stem cells to replace supporting cells, deliver nourishing substances or dampen down inflammation.

Laboratory studies have investigated various types of stem cells for treating MND, including bone marrow stem cells and neural stem cells. It might even be necessary to use a combination of different types of stem cell therapy to treat MND.

Researchers also need to establish what the risks of treatment might be. For example, some stem cells have the potential to give rise to tumours. Work is ongoing to learn more about different types of stem cells and how they might be used to treat MND.

Clinical trials using stem cells in people with MND

The first rigorous clinical trials to examine the safety of stem cell treatments in people with MND have begun in the USA and Israel. These early clinical trials have assessed safety only (in Phase 1), with later studies (Phase 2 onwards) measuring effectiveness in treating the disease.

Concerns over stem cell treatments

A number of clinics around the world are already offering stem cell treatments for people with MND. Like all unproven treatments the Association does not endorse these stem cell treatments, which are untested in clinical trials and have no scientific rationale for their beneficial effects.