Brain stem cells from primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) patients lack the ability to repair brain damage and to trigger the maturation of protective myelin-producing cells, a surprising study with far-reaching implications indicates.
The study also showed that stem cells from individual patients reacted differently to compounds developed to trigger remyelination, suggesting that the underlying problem in PPMS may vary widely among patients. Myelin is a substance essential to the functioning of the nervous system. It is damaged in MS.
Differences in individual patients’ reactions to therapies may explain why most drugs developed for PPMS fail clinical trials despite looking promising in early research. The answer to this issue may be treating progressive MS patients in a personalized manner.
The study’s findings also raise the possibility that stem cell transplants using the patient’s own cells may be ineffective in this aggressive form of MS.
The study, “iPS-derived neural progenitor cells from PPMS patients reveal defect in myelin injury response,” was published in the journal Experimental Neurology.
A research team at the University of Connecticut recruited PPMS patients and their siblings or spouses as controls. Using blood samples, the team forced blood cells to backtrack to become stem cells. Their intention was to transform them into neurons and myelin-producing oligodendrocytes.
They then transferred the stem cells to the brains of animals with brain damage similar to what is seen in PPMS. Cells derived from the patients’ healthy family members immediately got to work, repairing the injuries.
But, astonishingly, stem cells from the patients did nothing.
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