Stem Cell Treatment Holds Promise For MS Patients

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A research team at the Cambridge and Edinburgh University has shown that activating stem cells in the brain, specifically the oligodendrocyte precursor cells or OPCs, could reverse the damage caused to the myelin sheath in people affected by the auto immune disease, multiple sclerosis (MS). OPCs are stem cell types that  transform into oligodendrocytes that are involved in myelin repair.

In the new study, scientists identified RXR-gamma, a specific molecule which when blocked prevents transformation of OPCs  into oligodendrocytes .In lab mice affected by MS, scientists stimulated the RXR-gamma molecule with a special retinoic acid and this caused the transformation of  OPCs into oligodendrocytes, which repaired the damaged nerves.

In multiple sclerosis the body’s immune system attacks and damages the myelin sheath, affecting communication between the nerve cells of the central nervous system, which are  brain and the spinal cord. Nerve cells communicate by sending electrical signals and impulses using fibers called axons and the axons are are insulated by the fatty myelin sheath. Damage to the myelin affects the ability of the axons to transmit signals. Scleroses are scars or lesions in the white matter of the brain and spinal cord which is mainly composed of the fatty myelin.

The scientists have now identified a biochemical signaling pathway to activate OPCs to transform into oligodendroctyes to help regeneration of the myelin sheath. Current treatment methods involve suppressing the auto-immune system so that they do not attack the myelin forming cells, but do nothing to regenerate the cells. The body has the ability to rebuild and replace  lost myelin  by a natural process, remyelination and this process not perfect in MS patients. However, scientists say that a complete cure for MS is still many years away, but efforts are on to initiate clinical trials to find the efficacy of the procedure in humans.