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Stem cells offer hope for MS patients

27 April 2009
Appeared in BioNews 505

A report published in the Journal of Translational Medicine shows that stem cells taken from patients' adipose (fat) tissue may be able help relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). In the preliminary study by researchers from Medistem Inc. and the Division of Neurosurgery, University of California San Diego, three patients were injected with adipose tissue from their abdomen, and their symptoms dramatically improved.

The stromal vascular fraction (SVF) that was taken from the abdomen of the patients contains many cell types. The most significant, which the team think could have induced the effects when the SVF was injected, are mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), regulatory immune cells and anti-inflammatory cells. The safety of injecting adipose tissue is supported by the use of this procedure in cosmetic surgery, as well as by ongoing studies that use adipose-derived MSC grown in the laboratory. This was a preliminary study, and the scientists conclude that the technique should now be tested in clinical trials to determine if the approach works in other MS patients, and how long the effects last.

Around 85,000 people in the UK have MS, an autoimmune condition which is the result of damage to myelin - a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system. When myelin is damaged, this interferes with messages between the brain and other parts of the body. Over time, the nerves become scarred and the transmission of signals is disrupted. Some people have mild, intermittent symptoms for decades, while others rapidly deteriorate, becoming blind or paralysed.

Dr Boris Minev who led the research said: 'All three patients in our study showed dramatic improvement in their condition after the course of SVF therapy. While obviously no conclusions in terms of therapeutic efficacy can be drawn from these reports, this first clinical use of fat stem cells for treatment of MS supports further investigations into this very simple and easily-implementable treatment methodology'.

The team think that the SVF cells may be able to treat MS by limiting the immune reaction and promoting the growth of new myelin. Dr Minev explained that 'none of the presently available MS treatments selectively inhibit the immune attack against the nervous system, nor do they stimulate regeneration of previously damaged tissue', adding: 'We've shown that SVF cells may fill this therapeutic gap'.

Chris Bentley from the UK's MS Society said: 'The preliminary research presented in this literary review is intriguing and we would be interested to see if what is shown in these case studies can be repeated in properly controlled clinical trials.

MS 'fat tissue' treatment hope
The Press Association |  24 April 2009
Non-expanded adipose stromal vascular fraction cell therapy for multiple sclerosis
Journal of Translational Medicine |  24 April 2009
Stem cells 'able to reverse symptoms of multiple sclerosis
The Daily Telegraph |  23 April 2009
Stem Cells From Fat Tissue Offer Hope For MS Treatment
ScienceDaily |  26 April 2009
Tummy fat jabs offer new hope to MS patients
The Daily Mail |  24 April 2009
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