NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An exciting development in cell therapy could lead to a treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other devastating brain diseases.

For the first time, a kind of cell therapy seems to stop the progression of those diseases, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Monday.

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Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS) is a progressing, degenerative disease of the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord. It’s especially cruel because the patient’s cognition – his or her thinking – is intact, and there is no treatment or cure.

That may be about to change.

Mark Zimmer has been an active athlete all his life, but when he began experiencing weakness in his legs and tripping over his feet, he knew something was wrong.

“I’m basically being turned into a statue. Every day, little by little, I lose a little something,” Zimmer said.

He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. It’s one of a wide spectrum of central nervous disorders ranging from multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease to spinal cord injuries and stroke, which damage nerve fibers, usually irreversibly.

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“There usually is a permanent dying back of the nerve fibers and there really is no recovery,” said Dr. Benjamin Segal of Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

Researchers at Ohio State, however, discovered a novel while blood cell that resembles an immature immune cell called a neutrophil. It not only preserves nerve fibers, but can even reverse nerve damage and restore function.

“It doubles the number of surviving nerves and it also stimulates a significant number of them to begin regenerating new fibers or growing new fibers,” Dr. Segal said.

So far, the new cell has only repaired damage in mouse models of nervous system damage, but now that the healing cell has been found, researchers are working to extract it in humans, and grow more of them in the lab to infuse back into ALS patients.

That is, perhaps, the most hope those patients have ever had.

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