Patients with multiple sclerosis who have had to deal with their disability without a known cure now may have a reason to be more hopeful. New research using stem cells concludes that it may be possible for patients to reverse the condition that causes the disease. MS is characterized by the destruction of the myelin sheath surrounding nerves in the brain. As these protective sheaths disappear, the nerve is sometimes unable to send a message from the brain to the appropriate muscle groups. So, in many cases, MS patients suffer from difficulty walking, keeping their balance and spasticity.
The severity and progression of the condition vary from patient to patient, and drugs have been developed to slow the demyelination process. But the new research suggests a fresh and potentially more effective treatment may be available.
What was the study?
Researchers from the Case Western University School of Medicine injected MS-positive mice with hepatocyte growth factor, a substance found in human mesenchymal stem cells. It’s culled from bone marrow.
[SLIDESHOW: Top 10 Common Myths About MS – Busted!]
Eleven animals with MS were given the treatment, though it should be noted that the mice were injected with human stem cells. The test subjects were given either 50 or 100 nanograms of growth factor every other day for five days. Those that received the higher dosage saw slightly better recovery. Inflammation decreased and the number of molecules that counter inflammation increased in their brains.
What were the results?
Along with decreased inflammation in the brain, the study also found that the mice actually began to regrow the myelin sheath that surrounds nerves that had been damaged by MS. Neural cells also regrew in the animals.
[QUIZ: Quack Cures for MS]
What does this mean?
This could be a very important development for the treatment of MS. Though the findings require significantly more study before human tests can be considered, the fact that a naturally-occurring human substance caused the myelin to regrow is very positive. It’s worth noting, of course, that the test involved only 11 mice.
It’s important to point out that while this treatment involves stem cell research, it’s not the politically controversial embryonic stem cell research, in which the cells are culled from donated human embryos. These stem cells from bone marrow.
How significant is this development?
This could be the first step towards a cure of multiple sclerosis. By identifying a substance that has the potential to regrow myelin and neural cells, scientists have zeroed in on the most destructive force of MS. The fact that the growth factor is culled from stem cells, something that naturally exists in the bone marrow, makes this study even more promising.
Outside-the-box research for an MS cure is nothing new. In the past, scientists have looked into "cures" involving supplementation, attitude, exercise and, most controversially, CCSVI surgery. Previously, these "cures" investigated the cause of the MS disease, which is a hotly debated topic with little consensus. However, this new study regarding growth factor injections is tackling the indisputable – that MS is characterized by myelin breakdown and damaged nerves. It isn't trying to address a vitamin deficiency or vascular problem, but rather is addressing the scientific facts of the condition rather than a suspected cause for the onset of the disease.
Though this is a very preliminary study and expectations need to be tempered, these results provide hope for the future. Along with the development of several effective disease-modifying drugs over the last two decades, this seems to be the next step towards finding an actual cure to this debilitating illness.
Case Western Reserve University. (22 May 2012). "Growth Factor In Stem Cells May Spur Recovery From Multiple Sclerosis." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/245660.php.