Researchers at Cambridge and Edinburgh have discovered a way for stem cells in the brain to regenerate myelin, which is needed to protect nerve fibers. The studies, performed on rats, are exciting because they offer new hope that in the future, the damage done by multiple sclerosis could be repaired and physical function lost by patients could be restored.
The studies indicated that the patient’s own brain could be stimulated to regenerate myelin. Professor Charles ffrench-Constant, one of the lead researchers, was hopeful that the discoveries made could lead to the development of new drugs. “The discovery is very exciting as it could potentially pave the way to find drugs that could help repair damage caused to the important layers that protect nerve cells in the brain.”
Dr. Michael Devereaux, a neurologist at University Hospitals, Case Medical Center said that although this research is in its early stages, the discovery is nevertheless exciting. “Stem cell research is an important contribution to fighting MS. “This should lead to dramatic breakthroughs in the regeneration of cells that make myelin, which wraps around the axons cable of nerves cells protecting the axons and allows them to conduct electrical impulses better.”
Still, he cautioned that MS is “a whole brain disease” and that the myelin regeneration would only be part of the solution to a bigger problem. “It’s useful research, but the ultimate answer is to stop the condition in the first place. It’s a genetic disease and that’s why stem cell research is so important.”
Devereaux likened the research currently being done on MS to where we were in the 1930s with antibiotics and said that the results are still a long ways away from reaching the clinic. “It’s inching us toward new treatments,” he said optimistically. “Even the researchers would agree that this is not a cure for MS, but that it’s an important step toward a cure.”