Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms in Mice Improved Following Injection of Human Stem Cells

The injection of human stem cells into the spinal cords of mice with a condition similar to multiple sclerosis (MS) resulted in a reversal of paralysis, according to a study funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

MS causes the body’s immune system to wear down myelin, or the protective covering of the nerves, according to the Mayo Clinic. Such damage causes a breakdown in the communication between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body, sometimes resulting in the loss of ability to walk or speak clearly. MS does not have a cure, but the symptoms can be treated to reduce the progress of the disease. The cause of the disease is unknown.The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has addressed theories that the disease is caused by hepatitis B vaccinations, stating that evidence does not support this explanation.

Though successful treatments in mice aren’t always successful in humans, the findings of the study open up new areas of research for those seeking to develop a cure for MS. “It needs to be applied to humans, but for the technique to have had this much of an impact is significant,” said John Foley, the director of the Rocky Mountain MS Clinic. “We’re encouraged by this.”

The study was originally meant to help researchers better understand stem cell rejection, as stem cells—which are commonly used to replenish or repair damaged tissue—are often interpreted by the immune system as foreign bodies. While the researchers expected the mice to reject the stem cells injected into them, 73 percent of the mice involved experienced a reversal of symptoms and an improvement in motor skills. Even six months later, improvements continued to show.

“This result opens up a whole new area of research for us to figure out why it worked,” said researcher Jeanne Loring, the director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute. “We spent the last year convincing ourselves that the amazing results we saw were reproducible. It was just such a surprise. We’re really into mystery time now.”