by Drs.Like Wu, Xiaojuan Wang, Bo Cheng, Shuangshuang Liu and Xinrui Xi
Wu Medical Center, Bejing, China
What is Ataxia?
Ataxia is a form of movement disorder. Patients with Ataxia experience a loss of balance and physical co-ordination, leading to difficulty walking normally.
The cerebellum of the brain is normally responsible for maintaining balance and co-ordination. Ataxia occurs when there is damage to the cerebellum. It may also result from damage to other parts of the nervous system.
Symptoms of Ataxia
Ataxia leads to a difficulty maintaining balance, walking, speaking, seeing, swallowing, and performing tasks requiring a high degree of motor control, such as writing and eating.
The symptoms may vary in intensity depending on the degree of damage to the parts of the brain that regulate balance and co-ordination between motor movements.
What causes Ataxia?
Ataxia is commonly caused by the loss of function in the cerebellum. The cerebellum is located toward the back and lower part of the brain.
The central part of the cerebellum can control complex movements like walking, eye coordination, and supporting the head and chest.
Other parts of the cerebellum help to coordinate smaller movements such as swallowing and those movements required while speaking and seeing.
Ataxia results when there is dysfunction in the pathways leading into and out of the cerebellum.
Types of Ataxia
There are several different categories of ataxia, with over 100 types of the disease in total. There are three overall broad categories that classify ataxia:
Hereditary ataxia - one that runs in the family and is inherited genetically. The symptoms may develop slowly over many years.
Acquired ataxia - may occur due to injury to the brain or due to a stroke or other brain-related disease that affects movements and coordination. The symptoms of acquired ataxia develop rapidly.
Idiopathic late onset cerebellar ataxia (ILOA) - the cerebellum is progressively damaged due to unexplained causes, leading to ataxia.
Of the three types of Ataxia, acquired ataxia is the most common type and is often associated with brain infections or encephalitis, stroke and multiple sclerosis. People of all ages may be similarly affected.
Both hereditary Ataxia and ILOA ataxia are relatively rare. The most common type of hereditary ataxia is Friedreich's ataxia, which makes up for almost half of the documented cases of hereditary ataxias. It affects an estimated 1 in every 50,000 people in England annually.
Hereditary Ataxias may begin in childhood and progress as the child grows. ILOA on the other hand affects middle-aged adults first.
Diagnosis and treatment of Ataxia
Ataxia is diagnosed clinically. It is a symptom of an underlying cause rather than a disease in itself. Diagnosis is made using clinical examination as well as laboratory testing and imaging studies.
At present there is no cure for Ataxia. If the underlying cause can be found, the disease may be treated using medications or approaches that will treat the symptoms. For example, if Ataxia is the result of a vitamin deficiency, the deficiency may be corrected to relieve the symptom.
There are no specific treatments available for hereditary Ataxia and ILOA in the past few years and these tend to worsen over time. Traditional treatment usually focuses on rehabilitation of the patients and making them as self-sufficient or independent as possible for as long as possible.
Special stem cell treatment for Ataxia
Our stem cell treatment for Ataxia
Through nearly 15 years of research, the Wu Stem Cell Medical Center (WSCMC) found that stem cell transplantation therapy, especially the unique therapy which combines both stem cell implants and treatment from the WSCMC have a good recovery outcome for hereditary ataxia or unexplained ataxia. The pathological study shows that ataxia patients have progressive neurodegenerative in the cerebral and spinal cord, diminishment of nerve cells and Glial proliferation. The WSCMC found that implant neural stem cells can effectively increase the number of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and the growth factors produced from the neural stem cells can protect the damaged nerve cells. Neural stem cells combined with mesenchymal stem cells can further promote restoration of the nerves and nerve differentiation. The WSCMC uses this therapy and has treated dozens of ataxia patients from all around the world, with different degrees of improvement in their neurological functions.