Fort Smith man in ALS clinical trial, symptoms dramatically improved

Local News

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA) — A Fort Smith man says his ALS symptoms have significantly improved after participating in a clinical research trial to slow down the progressive disease.

Mark Bedwell used to love to get his hands dirty working in the auto body shop.

“My life is my work, and I love it,” he said. “It was getting hard to walk and talk.”

But the weakening of his muscles turned out to be ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

In 2017, he was told he would have three to five years to live.

“[I was] very scared, very emotional. The first week I cried, I whined, I moaned. After that first week I said God, it’s yours,” Bedwell said.

He focused on the future, looking for any way to get help.

That’s when he found a clinical trial out of Worcester, Massachusetts, using stem cell therapy.

Nearly 200 people are currently participating in it.

It’s run through the Israel-based company Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics.

There are five other sites around the country in the same ALS clinical trial, including:

  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles, California)
  • University of California Irvine Alpha Stem Cell Clinic (Irvine, California)
  • Pacific Medical Center (CPM) Research Institute (San Francisco, California)
  • Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota)

Cells are collected from the patients own body.

“What we’re doing in this trial is harvesting stem cells from bone marrow, and giving back either those stem cells or placebo to patients via the spinal fluid. The hope is that the stem cells will help keep motor neurons alive and more healthy longer,” says Dr. Robert Brown, University of Massachusetts Medical School professor.

Dr. Brown says the current goal is to slow down the disease, and eventually reverse the disease altogether.

After 14 trips to the bay state, Bedwell says he can now walk, run, and his voice returned.

“I thought it would slow it down to where I can still live and function, but I was really surprised it has actually reversed symptoms,” Bedwell said.

He hopes to spread awareness about this trial that resulted in his tremendous improvement.

While Dr. Brown says he’s pleased to hear these results, the trial will not be complete until June or July of 2020.

“We don’t know whether he was treated with his own cells or with controlled…it’s early to draw that conclusion because as we should be — we are blinded. This is a double-blinded study so we don’t know what he’s getting, and he doesn’t know what he’s getting,” Dr. Brown said.

But Bedwell has hope that this research could help out many more people.

“This treatment in my personal opinion, will slow down ALS, stop it for a lot of people, reverse it,” he said. “Let us have the chance to live.”

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