People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be a step closer to benefitting from ‘personalised’ stem cell treatment, after a recent study found that an individual’s own skin cells could help to improve nerve damage caused by the increasingly common condition.
The news comes after researchers from the University of Cambridge carried out a comprehensive study on mice – which involved taking skin cells from test subjects with MS and ‘reprogramming’ them into personalised neural stem cells (NSCs).
MS typically causes the body’s own immune system to attack and damage nerve fibres by breaking down myelin – the protective sheath which surrounds such fibres. This damage causes disruption to messages distributed around the brain and spinal cord – resulting in pain, balance problems, fatigue and impairment to mobility.
The type of immune cells which commonly cause this damage are known as ‘macrophages’, which ordinarily work to rid the body of unwanted intruders, but in this case, will cause damage to the central nervous system.
It has long been thought that the inflammation and nerve damage caused in MS can be reduced by introducing stem cells into the body – something which researchers at the University of Cambridge have themselves previously been able to prove.
However, scientists have now discovered that “more readily obtainable” skin cells converted into stem cells can prove equally effective – a finding which could pave the way for future ‘personalised’ treatments, as such cells can very easily be taken from patients.
Study leader Dr Stefano Pluchino, said: “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.
“This is particularly promising, as these cells should be more readily obtainable than conventional neural stem cells and would not carry the risk of an adverse immune response.”