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Human stem cells treat nerve disorder in mouse study

11 February 2013
Appeared in BioNews 692

Brain cells engineered from human skin tissue have successfully treated laboratory mice with a deadly nerve disorder with similarities to multiple sclerosis (MS).

In the study researchers took human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) derived from skin tissue and grew them into the precursors of oligodendrocytes, brain cells involved in producing myelin.

Nerve cells use myelin as a type of cellular insulation, like the plastic around electrical wires, in order to communicate with one another effectively. When myelin integrity is compromised, as in MS and Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, signalling between nerve cells breaks down.

The precursor cells were then injected into newborn mice with the equivalent of a human myelin disease. This technique safely and successfully restored myelin around the affected nerves to normal levels. On average, the life span of the treated mice exceeded that of the untreated mice.

This is the first report of using hiPSCs to restore cell-to-cell signalling in neurons. Researchers have previously favoured the use of embryonic or neuronal stem cells as potential treatments for myelin diseases. But because researchers cannot readily acquire these cells from individual patients, the possibility of immune rejection may limit these approaches.

hiPSC technology may offer a way of circumventing this issue. The paper notes that hiPSCs could theoretically be generated from a patient's own skin and used in their treatment. The authors warn, however, that this technique is 'not completely free of rejection risk'.

Dr Steven Goldman, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in the USA, who led the study, said: 'The study strongly supports the utility of hiPSCs as a feasible and effective source of cells to treat myelin disorders'.

He added: 'In fact, the re-myelination process appeared more rapid and efficient than with other cell sources'.

However, as an earlier article on potential cell therapy techniques for myelin diseases by experts Professor Robin Franklin and Professor Charles Ffrench-Constant cautions, 'the effectiveness of any remyelination therapy depends on the ability to suppress the effect of any ongoing disease process on the new oligodendrocytes'.

Dr Goldman said that he and his colleagues intend to include the technique in a clinical trial due to begin in 2015.
Cells Forged from Human Skin Show Promise in Treating MS, Myelin Disorders
University of Rochester Medical Center (press release) |  7 February 2013
Human iPSC-Derived Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cells Can Myelinate and Rescue a Mouse Model of Congenital Hypomyelination
Cell Stem Cell |  7 February 2013
MS treatment: Clinical trials due as human stem cells research shows promise
Independent |  7 February 2013
Skin 'may restore' diseased MS brain
BBC News |  8 February 2013
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