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Stem Cells May Reverse Damage Caused by Multiple Sclerosis


For people who have multiple sclerosis (MS), loss of the protective layers called myelin sheaths results in damage to the central nervous system. Now researchers have found a mechanism that could help make stem cells repair the damage.

Repaired myelin sheaths would help multiple sclerosis patients

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological disorder in which the myelin on nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord are damaged and destroyed. This damage, called demyelination, interferes with the transmission of signals from the brain through the spinal cord and to locations throughout the body.

MS is also characterized by inflammation, which can result in permanent loss of function and damage to the cells that produce myelin. As a result, the brain is limited in its ability to repair damaged myelin.

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In new research, which was conducted by scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh, a mechanism has been found that is not only critical for regenerating myelin sheaths, but may also be utilized to make the brain’s own stem cells more adept at regenerating new myelin.

The results of the study, which were published in Nature Neuroscience, “could potentially pave the way to find drugs that could help repair damage caused to the important layers that protect nerve cells in the brain,” according to professor Charles ffrench-Constant, of the University of Edinburgh’s MS Society Centre for Multiple Sclerosis Research.

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, 350,000 to 500,000 people in the United States have multiple sclerosis, and they are part of the 2.5 million people around the world who live with the disease. Multiple sclerosis is more common among women and whites, and usually is diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.There is no cure for the disease, and treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms.

Study author and Professor Robin Franklin, director of the MS Society’s Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair at the University of Cambridge, notes that “in this study we have identified a means by which the brain’s own stem cells can be encouraged to undertake this repair [of myelin], opening up the possibility of a new regenerative medicine for this devastating disease.”

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
Huant JK et al. Nature Neuroscience December 5, 2010