Repairing the Nervous System
We pursue all promising paths to uncover solutions for EVERYONE with MS, wherever those opportunities exist, while focusing on several priority areas, including nervous system repair. We are at a pivotal moment in time where significant progress can be made and breakthrough solutions can change the world for everyone with MS.
Nowhere is this truer than in the area of nervous system repair. Decades of research into nerve physiology, MS tissue damage
and the biology of glial cells – the numerous brain cells that support nerve cells – have laid the groundwork for finding ways to restore normal function in individuals with MS. Today it holds significant promise in repairing the damage and restoring the function that MS has taken from people.
Research on this topic focuses on stimulating the natural capacity of the brain to repair itself. Myelin appears to be the main target of the immune attack in MS. The cells that make myelin—oligodendrocytes—also are lost in MS. Researchers are looking at factors that are important to the growth and development of oligodendrocytes and myelin, to find ways of promoting myelin repair. Key molecules and growth factors are being identified that may serve as targets for stimulating myelin repair.
In recognition that during the course of MS the nerve fibers, or axons, are also damaged, a new research focus has emerged: in order to repair the nervous system, we must learn how to regenerate axons as well as myelin. Insights into complex mechanisms involved in nervous system development now make it feasible to aggressively address the task of repairing axons as well as myelin in MS.
There is much research today occurring that uses many types of stem cells in an effort to explore their potential for either slowing disease activity or repairing damage to the nervous system. The Society’s position is that the potential of all cell therapies must be explored for MS, but at present, there is no proven therapy for MS that uses stem cells.
One type of procedure that has been explored for several years in MS is called “autologous hematopoietic (blood cell-producing) stem cell transplantation.” This procedure has been used in attempts to “reboot” the immune system. These stem cells (derived from the bone marrow or blood) are stored, and the rest of the individual’s immune cells are destroyed by chemotherapy or radiation or both. Then the stored stem cells are reintroduced by injection. Eventually they grow and repopulate the body with immune cells. The goal of this, as yet experimental, procedure is that the new immune cells will no longer attack myelin or other brain tissue, providing the person, what is hoped to be, a completely new immune system. This approach is being investigated in Canada, the United States, Europe and elsewhere.
Another line of stem cell research in MS relates to efforts to repair nervous system damage. This research is in its infancy, and there is no evidence yet that any types of stem cells can reverse MS damage or restore function. Adult mesenchymal stem cells are present in many tissues of the body, including the bone marrow and fat (adipose tissue). These cells potentially have the ability both to treat immune disorders and promote tissue repair. There are a few known studies being conducted by researchers who are attempting in a controlled fashion to safely test the ability of mesenchymal stem cells to treat MS damage as well as spinal cord injury.
The National MS Society, to ensure that no opportunity is wasted in our mission to end MS, has supported research for at least a decade into the potential of different types of stem cells. Only when we can see the results of these and subsequent clinical trials will we be able to determine what the optimal cells, delivery methods, safety and actual effectiveness of these current experimental therapies might be for people with MS.
Moving forward, faster: Recent news in repair
We invested $7 Million in New Research to Speed Repair of the Nervous System in October 2013: The Society launched 15 new research projects representing $7M in new investments that focus on this critical effort. These projects are in both commercial therapeutics and academic research. The Society’s now has 88 current research projects focusing on repairing the nervous system in people with MS, with multi-year commitments totaling $37.8 million. Read more
Cutting-edge brain repair research by UCSF researcher wins first Barancik Prize for Innovation in MS Research:
Neuroscientist Jonah Chan, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, is the first recipient of a new international prize launched to recognize innovation and progress in MS research. Dr. Chan was recognized for his pioneering work that applies new technologies to the search for ways to stimulate brain repair in people who have MS. Read more
Potential myelin repair strategy takes next step, building on early Society funding:
Acorda Therapeutics is launching a Phase I clinical trial to test an antibody called “rHIgM22” in MS. This antibody finds and attaches to myelin-making cells in the brain, and when given to mice with myelin damage, it promotes myelin repair. Early Society support to Dr. Moses Rodriguez at the Mayo Clinic helped his team to uncover this antibody’s myelin repair properties. The Phase 1 trial will involve 60 people with all types of MS and will test the antibody’s safety and tolerability. If it is successful, it could lead to larger, longer trials needed to apply for marketing approval. Read details
Skin-derived stem cells from people generate new nerve-insulating myelin in mice:
A team co-funded by the National MS Society, led by Steven A. Goldman, MD, PhD (University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY) transplanted stem cells derived from human skin into the brains of mice. The transplanted cells developed into myelin-making cells that formed new myelin quickly and efficiently. Dr. Goldman is currently supported by the National MS Society for further work in this area, and he and his collaborators have leveraged $12.1 million in funding from New York State Stem Cell Science for clinical trials of stem cell strategies. Read more
Accelerating adult stem cell therapy:
The Society through Fast Forward has funded an alliance for the development of Athersys’ MultiStem adult stem cell platform for the treatment of MS, including treatment of progressive forms of the disease, with the goal of accelerating the clinical application of MultiStem for patients diagnosed with MS. The Society is committing up to $640,000 to fund the advancement of the program to clinical development stage.