A team of researchers has derived stem cells from the skin of people with primary-progressive MS, and induced them to become myelin-making cells, using a strategy that speeds up this process compared with previous studies. The cells repaired myelin (the insulating material that surrounds nerve fibers and which is damaged in MS) when transplanted into mice. Although the safety and potential of these cells for treating people remains to be seen, this study furthers the development of a strategy in the exciting field of cell therapy as it applies to MS. Panagiotis Douvaras, PhD, and Valentina Fossati, PhD (The New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute) and colleagues report their findings in Stem Cell Reports (2014; 3:1–10) The study was funded by the New York Stem Cell Foundation and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, among others.
Background: There is exciting progress being made through innovative research related to the potential of many types of stem cells both for slowing MS disease activity and for repairing damage to the nervous system. At present, there are no approved stem cell therapies for MS. Stem cell therapy is in the experimental stage, and it’s important for people to have the best available information to understand this exciting area of research and make decisions related to this complex issue.
In 2013, team co-funded by the National MS Society transplanted stem cells derived from human skin into the brains of mice with a disorder that prevents them from growing new myelin. They found that the transplanted cells developed into oligodendrocytes, myelin-making cells, which then formed new myelin quickly and efficiently. Read more.
The Study: The New York team derived stem cells via biopsy from the skin of four people with primary-progressive MS. They isolated the cells in the laboratory and used a special strategy to induce them into becoming oligodendrocytes. The strategy took 75 days, which is faster than some previously reported studies. . The team then transplanted these cells into mice with a disorder that prevents them from growing new myelin. The cells formed new myelin around nerve fibers in these mice.
Conclusion: Although this was a mouse study and the safety and potential of these cells for treating people remains to be seen, this research contributes knowledge to the future development of a possible stem cell strategy in in MS. With the urgent need for more effective treatments for MS, particularly for those with more progressive forms of the disease, the potential of all types of cell therapies must be explored.
The National MS Society is currently supporting 12 research projects exploring various types of stem cells, including cells derived from bone marrow, fat and skin, and has supported 70 stem cell studies over the past 10 years.
Read more about stem cell research and MS.