What are stem cells? And what role to they play in the possible treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Stem cells are cells that have the ability to develop into different kinds of cells. Because of this, researchers believe that stem cells can be used to repair damage in the body. In MS, stem cells could repair the myelin sheath, a protective envelope around nerve fibers that transmit nerve impulses. In MS, the myelin sheath is damaged by the immune system.
There are two main stem cells types: embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and adult stem cells.
ESCs develop days after in vitro fertilization and they are found in the interior of the cells of a developing embryo. They have unlimited growth abilities but also represent a risk of teratoma formation (tumors composed of tissue or organ components). Therapeutic use continues to be debated for ethical reasons.
Types of Stem Cells
There are three different types of specialized adult stem cells: hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), and neural stem cells (NSCs).
HSCs are found within the bone marrow in pockets of space made by surrounding stromal cells. They have the potential to become the main precursors of blood and immune system cells, which then differentiate into mature cells.
Hematopoietic stem cells are produced in large amounts during a person’s lifetime to repopulate the blood and immune system.
HSCs can be harvested from bone marrow, peripheral blood, umbilical cord blood, and ESCs themselves.
Some major advantages of peripheral blood stem cell transplant in therapeutic use include: no need for anesthesia and low risk of serious side effects, hospitalizations, or blood transfusions.
MSCs are self-replicating cells that can differentiate into (become) different types of cells, such as bone, cartilage, muscle, tendon, fat, and neural cells.
Usually, they are collected from the bone marrow but can also come from fat tissue, umbilical cord blood, placenta, thymus, and dental pulp.
The use of MSCs offer advantages that include the safe and prompt collection from bone marrow, the ease of in vitro enrichment and growth, and the security of auto-transplant (autologous transplant – donor is also the recipient) without a need for immunosuppressive treatment. They are less prone to genetic defects and malignant transformation in in vitro cultures.
NSCs are self-renewing progenitors that exist in the central nervous system. They have the capacity to self-renew and to grow discriminately into neurons, oligodendrocytes,and astrocytes.
NSC can be obtained by direct isolation from embryonic or adult brain tissue.
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