The Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society and the UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF) have announced a funding competition for a million pounds of seed capital to help research into multiple sclerosis in the UK. The money, which has been contributed from the budgets of both organisations is to be employed to 'pump-prime and speed up stem cell research' in relation to the condition in the hope of bringing novel stem cell technologies to the clinic sooner than would otherwise be possible.
The funding will help fast-track stem cell based treatments through expensive phase one and two clinical testing. Applications for funding will remain open until midday 17 March 2010, with funds being allocated later this summer. The drive to target funding at this single condition follows UKSCF's 2009 'International Consensus Meeting for stem cell therapies' which identified MS as a condition that was particularly liable to benefit from increased stem cell research activity.
The announcement of the new funding, was made on the same day as a special meeting of the London Regenerative Medicine Network, where presentations were made on the future of research into MS. Professor Robert Franklin, Director of the MS Society's Cambridge Centre for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, noted the connections between current research on cancer and pathways identified as relevant in the treatment of MS.
Researchers have discovered that the body naturally produces replacement myelin in cells called oligodendrocytes. Unfortunately, Professor Franklin noted, the body cannot do this sufficiently to replace the quantity of these cells lost from nerve fibres in patients with MS. Explaining the potential for stem cell therapies to assist those with MS, he noted that drugs designed to interfere with tumour development appear also to target the myelinating pathway. His Centre's work on creating specific therapies to stimulate natural myelination are complemented by a second approach introduced by Professor Martino of the University of Milan, which involves attempts to promote natural myelination through enlarging the population of oligodendrocytes through stem cell implantation.
Early studies using bone marrow stem cells in MS patients have yielded encouraging results and the usage of neural stem cells in animal models has also seen some success. While there is grounds for hope that new treatments for MS may become available in the near future, the experts were quick to distance this pioneering work from unlicensed stem cell treatments currently being sold by rogue practitioners.