An experiment tested on mice shows it may be possible to repair damage caused by multiple sclerosis (MS), Cambridge University researchers have found.
Scientists have shown that skin cells re-programmed into brain stem cells – and then transplanted into the central nervous system – help reduce inflammation and may be able to help damage caused by MS.
The study is a step towards developing personalised treatments based on a patient’s own skin cells for diseases of the central nervous system (CNS).
“Our mouse study suggests that using a patient’s reprogrammed cells could provide a route to personalised treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases, including progressive forms of MS,” said Dr Stefano Pluchino, lead author of the study from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge.
“This is particularly promising as these cells should be more readily obtainable than conventional neural stem cells – and would not carry the risk of an adverse immune response.”
What is MS?
According to the NHS, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms.
It’s a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild. In many cases, it’s possible to treat symptoms. Average life expectancy is slightly reduced for people with MS.
In MS, the body’s own immune system attacks and damages myelin – the protective sheath around nerve fibres – causing disruption to messages sent around the brain and spinal cord.
Symptoms are unpredictable and include problems with mobility and balance, pain, and severe fatigue.
Stem cell therapies
Recent advances have raised expectations that diseases of the central nervous system may be improved by the use of stem cell therapies.
Stem cells are the body’s ‘master cells’, which can develop into almost any type of cell within the body.
Previous work from the Cambridge research team has shown that transplanting neural stem cells – stem cells that are part-way to developing into nerve cells – reduces inflammation and can help the injured nervous system heal.
However, such neural stem cells are sourced from embryos and cannot be obtained in large enough quantities.
There’s also a risk that the body will see them as an alien invader, triggering an immune response to destroy them.
But reprogrammed cells – or ‘induced neural stem cells’ – would be the patient’s own and are less likely to trigger an immune response.
What did the research show?
Now, in research published in the journal Cell Stem Cell , researchers at the University of Cambridge have shown that induced neural stem cells may help repair some of the damage caused by MS.
Using mice that had been manipulated to develop MS, the researchers discovered that transplanting both neural stem cells and re-programmed ‘induced neural stem cells’ into fluid found in the brain and spinal chord turns ‘bad’ immune cells ‘good’.
The research team was led by Dr Pluchino, together with Dr Christian Frezza from the MRC Cancer Unit at the University of Cambridge, and brought together researchers from several university departments.
Dr Luca Peruzzotti-Jametti, the first author of the study, said: “We made this discovery by bringing together researchers from diverse fields including regenerative medicine, cancer, mitochondrial biology, inflammation and stroke and cellular reprogramming.
“Without this collaboration, many of these insights would not have been possible.”
The research was funded by Wellcome, European Research Council, Medical Research Council, Italian Multiple Sclerosis Association, Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Programs, the Evelyn Trust and the Bascule Charitable Trust.
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