Scientists have raised hopes of curbing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans after experiments on afflicted mice reduced inflammation.
Cambridge University researchers reprogrammed skin cells into brain stem cells in mice and transplanted them into the central nervous system – a move they say could reduce inflammation and help repair damage caused by MS in humans.
Although there is still some way to go before the technique may be used in people, the scientists hailed their experiments as a step towards developing personalised treatments based on a patient’s own skin cells for MS and other diseases of the central nervous system.
More than 100,000 people in the UK are thought to have MS.
The disease occurs when 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.
“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,” says Dr Stefano Pluchino, lead author of the study from the University of Cambridge.
MS fools immune system
Using mice that had been manipulated to develop MS, the researchers discovered that chronic MS leads to significantly increased levels of succinate, an acid that tricks the body into causing inflammation in the cerebrospinal fluid – a colourless fluid found in the brain and spinal cord.
Reprogramming skin cells into stem cells and transplanting them directly into the cerebrospinal fluid reduces the amount of succinate, effectively turning ‘bad’ immune cells into ‘good’ ones. This reduces inflammation and damage to the brain and spinal cord.
“This exciting research shows how stem cells can be used to repair damaged organs,”
Dr Ludovic Vallier, a scientist from the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, who was not involved in the study, said: “This exciting research shows how stem cells can be used to repair damaged organs.
The study also shows how stem cells offer an opportunity to control the immune system. However, further studies are needed to confirm these important results in humans and in the clinic.”