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Skin Cells May Be Used to Successfully Combat Multiple Sclerosis

Update Date: Feb 08, 2013 11:10 AM EST

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Sloan-Kettering Institute and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute believe that they have developed a method that can use a patient's own skin cells to combat multiple sclerosis.

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation of America, multiple sclerosis is considered to be a neurological and autoimmune disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord. The disorder occurs when the body attacks the myelin sheath that covers nerves and eventually the nerves themselves. These attacks cause a myriad of symptoms, including fatigue, visual problems and issues with muscle movement. Currently, researchers do not yet know what causes the condition, and have no way of curing it, though they can address some of the symptoms.

The study was conducted using laboratory mice who had been engineered to have no myelin. According to the BBC, researchers harvested human skin cells and converted them into stem cells, which can then be turned into any cell in the body. These converted stem cells were then turned into the types of cells that create myelin in the body. When these new cells were placed into the brains of mice without myelin, it created an enormous effect. "The new population of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells and oligodendrocytes was dense, abundant and complete. In fact, they re-myelination process appeared more rapid and efficient than with other cell sources," researcher Steven Goldman said to The Independent. The mice's bodies produced myelin and many of them went on to have normal lifespans. 

While the study is encouraging, the researchers note that they would still need to address the body attacking myelin. They say that the treatment could be administered with a treatment that reins in the immune system. Otherwise, the therapy would need to be administered over and over again.

The first preliminary human trials could begin as early as 2015. Full-scale trials could begin soon afterwards.

"Myelin repair therapies are urgently needed in MS and we're pleased to see researchers have been able to generate myelin making cells from human stem cells," Dr. Emma Gray from the Multiple Sclerosis Society said. "This is still very early stage research, but with more development could one day be used to repair damage to myelin in people with MS. We look forward to seeing more research in this promising area."

While no one is absolutely certain, it is estimated that 400,000 people in the United States suffer from multiple sclerosis.

The study was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

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