April 16, 2003 -- In multiple sclerosis, immune cells attack the nerves. But it now looks as though brain cells can repair what the immune cells have destroyed, according to the results of a new study.
The key is a kind of stem cell found in the adult brain. These cells can turn into many different kinds of brain cells. When these cells are injected into mice with a multiple-sclerosis-like disease, the cells travel to damaged nerves and repair them.
Stefano Pluchino, MD, PhD, and colleagues at San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, report the findings in the April 17 issue of the journal Nature.
"The possibility of injecting therapeutic cells systemically to achieve significant clinical benefit in multiple sclerosis-like syndromes opens new opportunities for the clinical use of stem-cell based therapies to treat heretofore incurable diseases in humans," they write.
So far, the experiments have been done only in mice, but the results are significant. The brain stem cells zero in on damaged nerves. They replaced nerve cells killed by disease. They helped rebuild the fatty myelin coating on the outside of nerve fibers lost in multiple sclerosis. And best of all, the mice recovered from the disease.
The treatment doesn't stop the immune-system attack at the heart of human multiple sclerosis. But in an editorial accompanying the Pluchino study, multiple sclerosis expert Lawrence Steinman, MD, says other treatments may soon help with that, too.
"If sufficient numbers of human [brain stem cells] can be collected, and if we can work out how to make these cells [grow and turn into nerve cells], then the results ... might be translated into a treatment that eliminates [nerve] damage in multiple sclerosis," Steinman writes.
SOURCE: Nature, April 17, 2003