Pluripotent stem cells: new opportunities for therapies against multiple sclerosis (MS) tested in a monkey model for MS

20 July 2016

BPRC - 1. Pluripotent stem cells: new opportunities for therapies against multiple sclerosis (MS) tested in a monkey model for MS

The disease MS is a disorder of the central nervous system. Current therapies focus on delaying the disease; it is not yet possible to cure the disease. The development of new technologies offers new opportunities. In close collaboration with BPRC scientists, research groups from the Netherlands and abroad have for the first time explored the application of such an innovative technology in monkeys: the use of induced pluripotent stem cells to repair nerve damage.

In MS cells of the immune system attack the insulating layer (myelin) of the nerve fibers. This disrupts the impulse conduction and induces various neurological problems. Oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) can produce new myelin sheaths. This leads to recovery and, unfortunately often only temporarily, to a reduction or complete disappearance of symptoms. In chronic MS the body OPCs fail to restore myelin damage sufficiently and symptoms are aggravated.

Complementation with new OPCs could provide a better recovery of myelin. To generate a source of OPCs, scientists used a new technology based on reprogramming of human skin cells to pluripotent stem cells from which OPCs were derived. Next, for the first time lab-produced human OPCs were implanted in a monkey model for MS and their fate was studied. The cells were found to remain viable for prolonged time, to migrate to the damaged nerves and to restore myeline damage on site.

These results are an important first step towards a new  approach for MS that can truly repair nerve damage. However, a lot of work still needs to be done before this therapy can be used in humans. This work is published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.