Strategies For Living With Ataxia
The Challenges and Realities Of Ataxia
How many people has actually heard of Ataxia, let alone even understand what it is? Although a rare degenerative condition, when taken together ataxias are more common than other better known neurological conditions. This lesser known disorder is a set of rare, degenerative neurological conditions that affect coordination, mobility and speech, most often poorly understood by healthcare professionals and public alike. Diagnosis is challenging and generally a long process due to the rarity and complexity of the different ataxias.
People with ataxia have problems with coordination because parts of the nervous system that control movement and balance are affected due to degenerative changes and damages. Ataxia is a sign of an underlying illness and is not so much a disease. Understandably, there are more than 100 types of ataxia affecting a substantial percentage of the world population but yet only possibly 10% have even heard of it. Hence being diagnosed with Ataxia can be overwhelming and challenging.
In a nutshell, there are 2 main groups; ataxia that is hereditary and caused by a genetic defect, and acquired ataxia due to structural damage to the cerebellum or spinal cord. Currently, hereditary or genetic causes of ataxia are not preventable. However, preventive measures of avoiding external causes such as environmental chemicals and toxins may reduce the risks of developing ataxia for some individuals.
Treatment for ataxia is dependent upon the cause of the condition. The wide range and variety of symptoms that affects a person with ataxia requires a symptomatic and supportive treatment approach. A multidisciplinary treatment strategy is most feasible, considering that the condition affects multiple organ systems. It also requires a continuous medical supervision to monitor and avoid potential complications involving the heart, spine, feet, muscles, vision and hearing. Physical and occupational therapy are the cornerstones of care, focusing on safety, mobility, maximising function, and improving quality of life.
Although there are no cure for the majority of the progressive ataxias, there are however many aspects of the conditions that are treatable. With new developments in the field of regenerative medicine and the advancement of genetic technologies, diagnosis is improving while the emergence of cellular therapies are setting an optimistic outlook for addressing ataxia.
Why Cell Therapy for Ataxia?
The cerebellum is the control centre in the brain region that is responsible for coordination of the body and transmitting messages to the nerves and muscles to perform the functions needed. If the cerebellum is damaged, as is in the case with Ataxia patients, failure to transmit these electrical messages through the body would lead to damage or death of the nerve and muscle cells.
The therapeutic principle of Cell Therapy lies in its regenerative capacity and immuno-modulatory properties to combat the degenerative issues caused by ataxia through providing neuroprotection and promoting neurogenesis to improve transmission of nerve signals in the brain and spinal cord, hence restore function. The Cell Therapy would not actually be used to regenerate the cerebellum per se but rather the damaged nerve and muscle cells controlled by it. It has been known to improve mobility, balance, coordination, overall motor skills, speech and cognitive abilities. It helps with slowing down the progression of the disease and achieves a better quality of life, which is the goal for most ataxia patients.
What is Ataxia?
The word Ataxia means ‘lack of coordination’ referring to a lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements, such as walking or picking up objects. Ataxia can affect various movements, creating difficulties with speech, eye movement and swallowing.
Rather than being an actual disease, it is a sign and symptom of a central nervous system abnormality. The underlying neurological disorder, resulting from ataxia, can be either hereditary or acquired. There are many types of ataxia, making it more complex to define and understand. The most common inherited ataxias are Friedreich’s ataxia and the Spinocerebellar ataxias.
When ataxia is acquired, there can be a number of different causes, identified (brain damage, diet, drug side effects, alcohol abuse, Stroke, Cerebral Palsy, Tumor, Multiple Sclerosis) or not (idiopathic). Ataxia may also be a symptom associated with certain infections.