Scientists in October of 2011 have improved previous efforts in Treating Multiple Sclerosis with stem cells by getting precisely the correct stem cells to correct the root cause of most of disease’s problem. Treating MS with stem cells is not new but the precision of this new effort is. The key is isolating and then managing to “instruct” the stem cell to become an oligodendrocyte cell.  The oligodendrocytes are the type of brain cell that makes myelin. Treating Multiple Sclerosis in this fashion goes to the core of the problem since it is the destruction of the myelin that is at the heart of the crippling disease’s problem.

The author of the paper, Dr. Fraser Sim at the University of Buffalo did much of the work in this revolutionary way of treating MS while he was a researcher at Rochester, NY.   He said “Characterizing and isolating the exact cells to use in stem cell therapy is one key to ultimately having success.  You need to have the right cells in hand before you can even think about getting to a clinical trial to treat people. This is a significant step.”

He and his co-author ran many studies to look at gene activity in stem cells of different types.  They came to the conclusion that the stems cells that carry a protein called CD140a on the surface seemed most likely to be able to be directed to become oligodendrocytes.  Treating Multiple Sclerosis in mice with these stem cells showed some pretty amazing results.


Treating MS by growing more myelin


Scientists injected these cells into the mice brains that were born without the capacity to manufacture myelin. In twelve weeks, treating MS this way, the cells became oligodendrocytes and coated over 40 percent of the brain’s neurons with myelin. This was a 400% improvement over s previous results in using stem cells in treating Multiple Sclerosis as published in Cell Stem Cell and Nature Medicine


Some knowledge obtained from previous legwork


This new approach to treating MS with stem cells could not have been possible without the previous extensive cataloging of the hundreds of molecules that tell the brain stem cells to become other types of stem cells in the brain.  That cataloging of knowledge took over 10 years and is making possible many new avenues to explore in treating MS and other diseases.

Co-author Steven Goldman, whose lab did much of that decade worth of research, commented “These cells are very responsive to cues in their local environment.  It’s crucial to select the right type of stem cell, but it’s just as important to create an environment with the molecular signals necessary to produce the type of cell needed for a particular condition or illness.”

In many ways, this approach to producing myelin and later in producing other cells is a way of treating ms naturally, since it really isn’t introducing anything foreign into the body.  It will be interesting to see what this catalog of genetic molecules helps spur in future decades.