Stem cells are being used in many laboratories today for research into the causes of and treatments for ALS. Most commonly, iPS cells are converted into motor neurons, the cells affected in ALS. These motor neurons can be grown in a dish and studied to determine how the disease develops. They can also be used to screen for drugs that can alter the disease process. The availability of large numbers of identical neurons, made possible by iPS cells, has dramatically expanded the ability to search for new treatments.
Because iPS cells can be made from skin samples of any person, researchers have begun to make individual cell lines derived from dozens of individuals with ALS. Comparing the motor neurons derived from these cells lines allows them to ask what is common, and what is unique, about each case of ALS, leading to further understanding of the disease process.