A trial conducted by teams from various universities and hospitals, including the University of Cambridge, has shown promising results in treating progressive multiple sclerosis with stem cells derived from brain tissue. The study observed no treatment-related deaths or serious adverse events over 12 months, and patients showed a substantial stability of the disease without signs of progression.
The study, led by scientists at the University of Cambridge, University of Milan Bicocca and Hospital Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Italy), is a step towards developing an advanced cell therapy treatment for progressive MS.
Over 2 million people live with MS worldwide, and while treatments exist that can reduce the severity and frequency of relapses, two-thirds of MS patients still transition into a debilitating secondary progressive phase of disease within 25–30 years of diagnosis, where disability grows steadily worse.
In MS, the body’s own immune system attacks and damages myelin, the protective sheath around nerve fibers, causing disruption to messages sent around the brain and spinal cord.
Key immune cells involved in this process are macrophages (literally ‘big eaters’), which ordinarily attack and rid the body of unwanted intruders. A particular type of macrophage known as a microglial cell is found throughout the brain and spinal cord. In progressive forms of MS, they attack the central nervous system (CNS), causing chronic inflammation and damage to nerve cells.
Recent advances have raised expectations that stem cell therapies might help ameliorate this damage. These involve the transplantation of stem cells, the body’s ‘master cells,’ which can be programmed to develop into almost any type of cell within the body.
Previous work from the Cambridge team has shown in mice that skin cells re-programmed into brain stem cells, transplanted into the central nervous system, can help reduce inflammation and may be able to help repair damage caused by MS.