Mesenchymal Stem Cells and MS

Researchers lay scientific groundwork for MS clinical trial.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University are playing a pivotal role in a new clinical trial investigating treatments for multiple sclerosis using mesenchymal stem cells.

human amniotic membrane mesenchymal stem cells

Pictured above: human amniotic membrane mesenchymal stem cells

Biologist Arnold Caplan and neuroscientist Robert Miller struck up a research partnership in 2003. They sought to combine Caplan's work with mesenchymal stem cells—adult stem cells culled from bone marrow—with Miller's research on therapies for multiple sclerosis and other diseases that attack myelin, a nerve cell's protective coating.

In MS, the immune system attacks myelin and the exposed nerves' intricate wiring can be damaged. The result: nerve signals can be blocked, causing loss of balance and coordination, cognitive ability and other functions.

"What the nerves need is repair and protection," Miller says.

The researchers thought MSCs could be useful, but, "It was a shot in the dark," according to Caplan.

After some promising in vitro results, Miller and Caplan moved the experiment to animal models-injecting MSCs from human donors into mice that had a version of MS.

They found that MSCs produced a barrier that blocked the autoimmune response and the formation of scar tissue that would otherwise permanently halt signals from traveling along nerves. In addition, the cells produced molecules that enhanced regeneration of the damaged axon and the myelin surrounding it.

Based on their work, the university, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals Case Medical Center have begun the first phase of a clinical trial to test the safety of injecting MS patients with their own MSCs.

The research was funded, in part, by the Myelin Repair Foundation.