Stem cells are cells that can both reproduce themselves (self renew) and develop into many different cell types (differentiate). Researchers believe that stem cells may, one day, be used to treat MS, but research into stem cells is still at the very early stages. Stem cell therapy is any treatment that uses or targets stem cells. This is usually to help replace or repair damaged cells or tissues, but can also be used to prevent damage from happening in the first place. There are currently no approved stem cell therapies for MS.
One exciting area of stem cell research is to identify how to encourage the brain’s own stem cells to regenerate new myelin.
Histologic and MRI studies both indicate that remyelination can occur in MS lesions. There are a number of models of MS in animals in which the experimental demyelination induced by toxins or virus/immune mechanisms is subsequently almost completely repaired. In these models the remyelination is carried out not by the cells (oligodendrocytes) which initially made the myelin but by immature progenitor cells or stem cells.Such cells can be identified in various sites in the adult human CNS including in regions surrounding MS lesions.
Certain types of stem cells such as mesenchymal stem cells have also been shown in MS to exert an immunomodulatory effect by preventing immune damage to the nervous system. Find our more about the MESEMS trial in our film interviewwith Dr Antonio Uccelli, a leading MS stem cells researcher.