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National MS Society Research in Stem Cells


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The National MS Society is a driving force of MS research to stop MS in its tracks, restore function that has been lost, and end MS forever. Our current investments total $90 million to drive solutions to assist  every single person with MS to live their best life. To make the most progress for everyone, we pursue all promising paths. One of these paths is stem cells, including adult stem cells that act as “spare parts” inside the body.

There is exciting progress being made through innovative research related to the potential of many types of stem cells for both slowing MS disease activity and for repairing damage to the nervous system. With the urgent need for more effective treatments for MS, particularly for those with more progressive forms of the disease, we believe that the potential of all types of cell therapies must be explored. The 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 68 stem cell studies over the past 10 years.

Leadership Role

The Society has been at the forefront to drive progress and consensus in this promising field.
  • In 2005, the National MS Society convened a Task Force on Stem Cell Research. Among its findings, the task force recommended that the Society hold a scientific symposium in early 2007 involving leading stem cell experts from around the world to further explore the viability of all types of stem cell research for the treatment, prevention and cure of MS.
  • This stem cell summit was held on January 16-19, 2007 in San Francisco, California. Over 75 experts in the areas of stem cells and MS participated in the Summit. A scholarly review of this meeting along with recommendations on priorities for moving this important research forward were published in a medical journal. 
  • A May 20, 2009 Stem Cell meeting organized by the MS Society in the UK and USA, and supported by the MS Society of Canada, Italy, France, Australia and the MS International Federation, was a response to this urgent need for guidance to the MS research community. The result was international consensus on the future of stem cell transplantation research for people with MS, paving the way for more coordinated global research efforts and potentially better, and quicker, patient access to stem cell clinical trials.
  • With research rapidly advancing, in November 2015, the International Conference on Cell-Based Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis was convened in Lisbon, Portugal under the auspices of the International Advisory Committee on Clinical Trials in MS (a group jointly sponsored by the National MS Society and the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis).
    • The Conference was chaired by Jeffrey A. Cohen, MD (Cleveland Clinic, USA), Marcelo C. Pasquini, MD, MS (Medical College of Wisconsin, USA) and Neil Scolding, PhD, FRCP (Southmead Hospital Bristol, UK).  
    • Participants reviewed current experience with, and value of, specific cell-based therapies. Invited speakers Drs. Saud Sadiq (Tisch MS Research Center of New York) and Richard Burt (Northwestern University) joined 70 other leading researchers and clinicians who conferred on clinical trials needed to provide answers about which types of cells, which route of delivery, and which types and stages of disease, would be the most promising approach for treating MS.
    • A review of the findings and consensus on next steps has been published by the conference organizers, with recommendations to help speed the development of new cell-based treatment solutions.  Read about this review
  • In spring 2017, the Society formed a Work Group on HSCT in MS Management to discuss what is known and what we still need to know about HSCT, and provide guidance on information, resources and advice the Society should provide for people with MS, healthcare professionals and payers. 
  • In spring 2017, the Society began engaging with a team planning a phase 3 trial of HSCT, encouraging quick action to design and launch the trial. 

Recent Projects Supported by the National MS Society

To ensure that no opportunity is wasted in our mission to end MS, the National MS Society has supported research for more than a decade into the potential of different types of stem cells, including cells derived from bone marrow, fat and skin. See Glossary for definitions of terms used here.
  • A research grant at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, focusing on whether adult stem cells from the nose can dampen harmful aspects of the immune system and improve myelin repair in rodent models of myelin loss.
  • Investigators in Milan, Italy who are doing preclinical testing of adult stem cells (iPSC) to stimulate repair of damaged myelin.
  • Researchers at Johns Hopkins University who are studying the ability of different types of transplanted stem cells to modulate the immune system and promote repair in MS models.
  • A Collaborative Center MS Research Center at the University of California, Irvine, that focused on the potential of stem cells for treating MS.
  • Investigators in Paris, France who are using myelin-making cells from outside the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nervous system) in attempts to repair MS damage in MS models.
  • University of California, Davis researchers who are investigating the potential of using cells derived from adult skin to repair nerve-insulating myelin damaged during the course of MS.
  • Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center who are studying myelin repair cells in action in mice for clues to stimulating nervous system repair in MS.
  • Investigators at Yale University who are evaluating the transplantation of myelin-producing cells to repair damaged myelin in an animal model, for clues to the possible safety and benefit in people with MS.
  • University of Utah researchers who are exploring how transplanted adult stem cells may stimulate repair of myelin in a mouse of MS.
  • Cleveland Clinic investigators who are determining the best way to track mesenchymal stem cells in the body during clinical trials of this novel strategy for treating MS.
  • Stanford University scientists who are devising methods to use skin cells to produce myelinating cells in sufficient quantities for transplantation in MS models as a prelude to their possible use in people with MS.
  • A Collaborative MS Research Center at the Mayo Clinic, taking a novel approach to studying nerve cells and possible ways to protect them. This includes creating stem cells by reprogramming skin cells from people with MS, growing them in lab dishes to create “MS in a dish,” enabling close study of any abnormalities and the ability to test therapies to fix the problem.
At present, there are no approved stem cell therapies for MS. Larger, longer-term, controlled studies are needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of using stem cells to treat MS. When the results of these and subsequent clinical trials are available, it should be possible to determine what the optimal cells, delivery methods, safety and actual effectiveness of these current experimental therapies might be for different people with MS.

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