Have you ever wondered what the benefits of stem cell research are? Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA) is a genetic disorder which causes damage to the cerebellum, a part of the brain which controls movement and coordination. Suffers of the disorder experience problems with movement, speech and coordination. There are more than twenty types of Spinocerebellar Ataxia which have currently been discovered. Each type shows itself differently and each individual with the disorder develops it at a different pace.
The future of the condition is currently being determined with research. There are many projects going on, ranging from those experimenting with stem cells to those trying to determine what genes are involved in the disorder.
Stem cells are cells which have the ability to become any kind of cell. These cells can divide themselves an infinite numbers of times, meaning one cell can quickly become lots of cells. Scientists can now artificially turn stem cells into almost any kind of cell meaning they can generate new body tissues to replace diseased or damaged body tissues.
Ataxia UK have recently funded a one year program at Bristol University to see if these cells can be used to cure Spinocerebellar Ataxia. This study could be the future of treatment. This study is into whether cells can be used to protect nerve cells from the kind of damage that is seen in the disorder's sufferers. In the study, cerebellum cells are taken from mice and toxin damaged to test the effect of stem cells on the cerebellum cells' survival. The cells appeared to protect the cerebellum cells from damage, showing they could potentially be used therapeutically for Ataxic conditions. The future of this research is potential human trials which will hopefully lead to a cure. However at the moment researchers are unsure of how the cells will be used in human beings.
Genetic research is currently going on to try and determine which repeated genes are involved in the different types of Ataxia. Currently only some types of Ataxia can be tested for (types 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 17), although the decision to be tested is one which must be considered carefully. Some suffers produce a normal genetic result, this could be because the genes involved in their disorder haven't yet been discovered. Some people with the genes for the disorder never develop it. With further genetic testing it is likely more types will be able to be tested for as well as finding out why some people do not develop the disorder despite having genes which suggest they should develop it. This may lead to finding a way to prevent Spinocerebellar Ataxia getting worse or even developing at all in people who have the genes.