Researchers in Milan, Italy reported that stem cells derived from mouse skin tissue were able to reduce nervous system damage in mice with a disease similar to multiple sclerosis, offering further evidence for the possibility that stem cells from patients might in the future be used for cell therapy to treat MS. The study, by Cecilia Laterza, PhD, Gianvito Martino, MD and colleagues at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute, Milan, and the University of Milan, was published in Nature Communications
. The study was co-funded by the National MS Society, MS Italian Foundation, MIUR Lombardy Region (NetLips Project), ELA Foundation, BMW Italy and NEUROKINE network (EU Framework 7 ITNproject).
Current therapies for MS reduce the immune system attacks that damage the brain and spinal cord, but they are not effective in progressive phases of the disease, when damage to the protective myelin coating on nerve fibers and the nerve fibers themselves may be widespread. Finding ways to repair the nervous system to restore function is a major research priority.
For this study the team used mouse skin stem cells and forced them through “cell reprogramming” to become myelin-making cells. This technique allows differentiated (specialized) cells, such as skin cells, to become embryonic-like stem cells which can become any kind of cell, including neural stem cells, the stem cells of the brain.
As in previous studies of this type, after the cells were infused into the spinal cord, they promoted recovery in mice with the MS-like disease EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis). Transplanted cells were able to reduce inflammation and protect the intact myelin from further damage, and were also able to foster the production of new myelin by the brain’s own cells. The team further showed that the protective effect was mediated by a soluble factor released by the transplanted cells, called “leukemia inhibitory factor.”
“Our discovery opens new therapeutic possibilities for multiple sclerosis patients because it might target the damage to myelin and nerves itself,” stated study leader Dr. Gianvito Martino.
“This is an important step for stem cell therapeutics,” noted Dr. Timothy Coetzee, Chief Research Officer of the National MS Society. “The hope is that skin or other cells from individuals with MS could one day be used as a source for reparative stem cells, which could then be transplanted back into the patient without the complications of graft rejection,” he added.
“There is still a long way to go before reaching clinical applications but we are getting there,” said Dr. Martino. “We hope that our work will contribute to widen the therapeutic opportunities stem cells can offer to patients with multiple sclerosis.”
“This is an important result for people with MS: rigorous basic science providing insights into the mechanisms involved in myelin and nerve damage is the only way to foster the discovery of new therapies for progressive forms of the disease,” noted Paola Zaratin, PhD, Director of Scientific Research at the Italian MS Society/Italian MS Foundation.
More work is needed, but this type of research gives hope that this strategy may eventually help restore lost function. Read more about research to repair the nervous system.