The first clinical trials of a revolutionary approach to treating multiple sclerosis with stem cells derived from the patient’s own skin could begin soon following research showing that it works well on laboratory mice, scientists said.
A study has for the first time found that human skin cells converted into stem cells can be used to treat laboratory mice with a condition similar to multiple-sclerosis, where the fatty covering surrounding the nerves is lost.
Scientists in the US said initial clinical trials on human patients using a similar approach could begin in 2015, with full-scale studies soon after. The skin cells were first genetically engineered to become induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) before being converted to the specialised cells that make the fatty myelin sheaths, which insulate nerve cells in a similar way to the plastic covering of an electrical wire. The myelin is gradually degraded in MS patients.
Scientists were able to turn the iPS cells into oligodendrocyte progenitor cells which were injected into the mice. These progenitor cells went on to become fully specialised oligodendrocytes, the cells responsible for making the myelin sheath.
“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,” said neurologist Steven Goldman of Rochester University Medical Centre in New York. Induced pluripotent stem cells are created by adding several genes to ordinary skin cells. This has the effect of “reprogramming” them back to an earlier, embryonic-like state, but has the ethical advantage over true embyronic stem cells in that they do not require the creation of human embryos.
Clinical trials of human induced pluripotent stem cells on MS patients are being funded by an organisation called New York State Stem Cell Science, which has already approved initial trials using stem cells, which are due to begin within two years.