Researchers at UTHealth have demonstrated in rats that transplanting genetically modified adult stem cells into an injured spinal cord can help restore the electrical pathways associated with movement. The results are published in today’s issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
In spinal cord injury, demyelination, or the destruction of the myelin sheath in the central nervous system, occurs. The myelin sheath, produced by cells called oligodendrocytes, wraps around the axons of nerves and helps speed activity and insulate electrical conduction. Without it, the nerves cannot send messages to make muscles move.
The research team, led by Qilin Cao, M.D., principal investigator and associate professor of neurosurgery at UTHealth (The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston), discovered that transplanted adult stem cells (oligodendrocyte precursor cells or OPC) from the spinal cord could become oligodendrocytes. The new cells helped restore electrical pathways of the spinal cord and therefore, function, in a process called remyelination.
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Sir Martin Evans
Stem cells could aid in treating muscular sclerosis. Animal experiments have demonstrated that it is possible to stop the aggressive, chronic inflammatory response against the myelin sheath that covers nerve cells, whose destruction leads to the devastating effects of the disease, said Giancarlo Comi, the head of the Experimental Neurology Institute of the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University. A three-day meeting, which began in Stresa, on the most recent progress regarding stem cells was opened by Nobel Prize winner Martin Evans and also included some of the most important experts on the subject in the country.
Comi specified that these cells are able to act against multiple sclerosis in two ways: not only are they able to stop inflammation, but they are also aggregate in the locations in which they are acting, keeping the entire area under control.
“It was thought that stem cells were only able to repair tissues, but it has been observed that they also act on the immune system.” The neurologist also cited work by Milan researcher Gianvito Martino, which “has completed the preliminary phase and is now ready for the first clinical study on the applications of stem cells against multiple sclerosis. A study will also be done to establish the doses that can guarantee successful treatment without causing any damage on patients with serious spinal injuries. This study will provide us with information on efficiency, which will be the focus of another study that will begin at the end of the year.”
The conference in Stresa gathered the top researchers in Italy in the stem cell field, with experts on neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, assisted reproduction, leukemia, and lymphoma.
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Scientists have identified a way of prompting nerve system repair in multiple sclerosis (MS).
Studies on rats by Cambridge and Edinburgh University researchers identified how to help stem cells in the brain regenerate myelin sheath, needed to protect nerve fibres.
MS charities said the “exciting” Nature Neuroscience work offered hope of restoring physical functions.
But they cautioned it would be some years before treatments were developed.
MS is caused by a defect in the body’s immune system, which turns in on itself, and attacks the fatty myelin sheath.
It is thought to affect around 100,000 people in the UK.
Around 85% have the relapsing/remitting form of the condition, in which “flare-ups” which cause disability, are followed by a recovery of a level of the lost physical function.
In this form of MS, there does appear to be some natural myelin repair.
However, around 10% of people are diagnosed with a progressive form of MS, where the decline continues without any periods of remission.
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