Tom Elliott has ALS. He fights to keep up with the daily routines of his life even as the disease makes everything harder.
"Brushing the teeth has become a real chore. Turning and rolling in bed to get comfortable has become an impossibility. This disease is about having to give up and sacrifice a lot," he said.
As ALS progresses, it destroys the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement.
"They cease to be able to move, they become essentially locked in their bodies," said Dr. Nicholas Boulis of Emory University.
Researchers at Emory University helped develop an experimental approach to treating ALS implanting stem cells called human neuro-progenitors directly into the spinal cord.
"We want to put those cells right next to those dying motor neurons in the hopes that those cells will provide protection and restoration of function, keep those cells alive, make them stronger," said Dr. Boulis.
It's the first U.S. clinical trial of its kind.
"I'm optimistic that we can do this safely. I'm optimistic that we'll have opened the door to a world of opportunities," said Dr. Boulis.
Tom is one of the first to have stem cells injected into his spinal cord, a procedure with high risk and no promises. Doctors say the stem cells won't generate new neurons but could help protect the ones he has left.
If the stem cell transplant technique works for ALS, researchers say it could open the door for new therapies for spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and other disabling illnesses.
Human stem cells for this ALS study were developed by a Maryland-based biotech company.