Stem Cell Can Help
CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand multiple sclerosis and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.
Multiple sclerosis occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the cells that surround and protect neurons. This protective covering is called myelin. As people lose myelin surrounding their nerves they start feeling weak or having trouble walking. Over time the disease progresses and people may end up with more severe symptoms included paralysis. About 400,000 people are living with MS in the U.S.
Some groups have had success treating MS using bone marrow transplants. In this approach, powerful chemotherapy agents eliminate a person’s bone marrow cells, which include the blood-forming stem cells that produce the entire blood system including immune cells. The doctors then transplant in fresh bone marrow cells that repopulate the person’s blood system with immune cells that won’t attack the myelin.
Although some people have been successful with this approach, the bone marrow transplant itself is extremely risky.
CIRM funded researchers have been trying to mature stem cells into a type of cell that might be able to replace the missing myelin. The idea is that these could be transplanted into a person with multiple sclerosis, and the cells would repair damage caused by the disease.
Other groups have been trying to learn more about how the body’s natural process should be repairing the damage. Their goal is to find drugs that could stimulate the body’s own stem cells to replace the damaged myelin.