UAMS to Host Lecture on Seeking a Treatment for ALS Through Adult Stem Cell Research

By Ben Boulden

The lecture by Hynek Wichterle, Ph.D., of Columbia University in New York, will be at noon in the Rayford Auditorium in the Biomed II Building at UAMS.

Wichterle will speak on “ALS in a Dish: From Stem Cell Programming to Disease Modeling,” as part of the UAMS Center for Translational Neuroscience’s Distinguished Lecture Series. He is an associate professor of pathology and cell biology, neuroscience and neurology at Columbia.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal degenerative disorder of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS patients progressively lose the ability to function and care for themselves.

Wichterle’s visit also will mark the start of collaboration between his laboratory and a team of UAMS researchers led by Mahmoud Kiaei, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences.

“ALS patients in Arkansas are going to benefit from this collaboration between UAMS and Columbia,” Kiaei said. “Hopefully, in about two years, we will be one of the centers that could possibly begin drug trials.”

Finding a drug to treat ALS has been difficult because drugs and compounds tested successfully in mice for their effectiveness against ALS have not worked in humans.  Wichterle, working with researchers at Harvard University, has been able to take adult skin fibroblasts from ALS patients and convert them to stem cells then program them to grow into neurons that can be used to test potential ALS treatments.

Being able to test those drugs in the lab on human neurons affected by ALS holds the promise of greatly accelerating the effort to find an effective treatment or cure for the disease, Kiaei said. UAMS has acquired some of those cells for research here.

“We’re very excited about the research potential, and Hynek Wichterle’s visit and lecture, which will mark the beginning of this new collaboration between the two universities and their research efforts,” Kiaei said.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. Named best Little Rock metropolitan area hospital by U.S. News & World Report, it is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has more than 2,800 students and 790 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or