Could MS Nerve Damage Be Repaired? Stem Cell Study in Mice Offers Hope

By Andrew Moseman | December 6, 2010 11:19 am

NeuronIn recent weeks we’ve covered new experimental treatments that involve injecting stem cells into patients to treat conditions like stroke and spinal injury. But in a new study, British researchers have pinpointed the possibility—in rats at least—of stimulating the body’s own stem cells to repair the chronic damage brought on by multiple sclerosis.

In MS patients, the immune system mistakenly attacks what’s called the myelin sheath, the protective layer around the axons of nerve cells.

The loss of myelin in MS sufferers leads to damage to the nerve fibres in the brain that send messages to other parts of the body, leading to symptoms ranging from mild numbness to crippling paralysis. [AFP]

So a team led by Robin Franklin experimented with rats that had central nervous system damage, which serve as animal models for MS. The researchers then looked for a way to signal the rats’ brains to repair the myelin damage.

In his research, published today in Nature Neuroscience, Franklin found a way to activate the “RXR pathway”, a crucial cell development route that turns brain and spinal cord stem cells into myelin-making cells, in rats and mice. If the same pathway could be switched on by drugs in humans, the cells could regenerate the damaged myelin sheaths around the nerve fibres of MS patients. [The Guardian]

At the moment, Franklin says, MS treatment focuses on simply reining in the immune system to slow the attacks on the myelin sheaths. But if Franklin’s treatment could work in people, then someday patients could see their nerve damage repaired and could regain motor function lost to the disease. Already, attempts to treat people with early-stage MS with stem cells from their own bone marrow has shown some success. Says Franklin:

“Therapies that repair damage are the missing link in treating MS. In this study we have identified a means by which the brain’s own stem cells can be encouraged to undertake this repair, opening up the possibility of a new regenerative medicine for this devastating disease.” [BBC News]

Franklin says that preliminary trials of drugs could be ready within five years. He adds:

“The caveat is that the road from where we are to a treatment is unpredictable, but at least we now have a road to go down.” [The Guardian]

Related Content:
80beats: Study Shows Stem Cell Infusions Are the 1st Therapy to Reverse MS
80beats: Fetal Stem Cell Trial Starts for Stroke Patients, Spinal Cord Patients up Next
80beats: FDA Green-Lights an Embryonic Stem Cell Treatment for Vision Loss
80beats: First Patient Is Injected With Embryonic Stem Cell Treatment

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • http://www.julienewmar.com Julie Newmar

    Will it help CMT patients?

  • http://google carol dockery

    will this help me as i have syringomyelia

  • http://google carol dockery

    i have been having a lot of pain in my shoulders and arms all due to syringomyelia this would be wonderful if it worked for M.S and Syringomyelia

  • http://URL CAROLINE CARR-LOCKE

    how about ALS? /Motor Neuron Disease ?????

    Edinburgh and Cambridge are working on this too

    I have just been diagnosed and I am desperate I do nt want to die

  • Marianne Zarilla

    I have SPMS. Had ccsvi on 11/18. Have had ms since 1994 have gotten little stronger, going 3xwk to pt.
    Would love to get signed up for trail whenever phase I starts.

    Thanks Much.

  • Amanda

    I lossed all feeling on my right side from breast bone around to my spine from my chest down to my knee all on the right side. My MS is taking over my body and I am scared I need something that can help me I am only 34 I dont want to give up hope yet

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