Damage caused by MS could be reversed using stem cells that repair injury in the central nervous system, a study shows.
Researchers have identified a mechanism essential for regenerating insulating layers, known as myelin sheaths, that protect nerve fibres in the brain.
In additional studies in rodents, the team from Edinburgh and Cambridge showed how this mechanism can be exploited.
The process can be manipulated to make the brain’s own stem cells better able to regenerate new myelin.
This 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.
In multiple sclerosis, loss of myelin leads to the nerve fibres in the brain becoming damaged.
These nerve fibres are important as they send messages to other parts of the body.
The scientists believe that this research will help in identifying drugs to encourage myelin repair in multiple sclerosis patients.
The study, funded by the MS Society in the UK and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in America, is published in Nature Neuroscience.
The Harry Potter author JK Rowling recently donated £10 million to set up the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic at the University of Edinburgh.
The clinic aims to place patients at the heart of research to improve outcomes for multiple sclerosis sufferers and those with other degenerative neurological conditions.
These include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Motor Neurone Disease.
Multiple sclerosis affects almost 100,000 people in the UK and several million worldwide. It often targets young adults between the ages of 20 and 40.
Therapies that repair damage are the missing link in treating multiple sclerosis. In this study we have identified a means by which the brain’s own stem cells can be encouraged to undertake this repair, opening up the possibility of a new regenerative medicine for this devastating disease.