by Thomas Vihtelic, DVM, PhD
Director of Experimental Therapeutics, MPI Research
Working in life sciences provides a front-row seat for emerging breakthroughs in medical research. Cell-based therapies described in the literature point toward possible treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS).
MS attacks the myelin sheath, or insulating cover of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing severe physical and mental problems, permanent neurological damage and, ultimately, shortened lifespan. This autoimmune disease affects an estimated two million people worldwide. While there are a number of treatments for multiple sclerosis on the market, there is no cure.
MPI Research scientists have conducted many preclinical studies using all the different stem cell types including mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). Published studies point to MSCs for treating inflammation in various diseases and autoimmune conditions, including multiple sclerosis. MSCs influence a broad range of immune cell types, including both T and B cells. More importantly, MSCs migrate to damaged and inflamed tissues.
The evidence for MSCs’ treatment potential comes from studies involving experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) in mice, a model for MS. Animals induced to develop the condition were treated intravenously with mouse MSCs before the onset of multiple sclerosis-like symptoms that include ascending tail and limb paralysis beginning about 10 days after immunization with peptides such as PLP (proteolipid protein) or MOG (myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein) that cause EAE.
The severity of clinical signs in the treated EAE mice was reduced. In addition, demyelination and T cell and macrophage infiltration of the central nervous system parenchyma were also reduced, compared to controls. In a different study type, decreased production of Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) and Interferon gamma (IFN), and fewer PLP-specific antibodies were observed. Transgenic MSCs expressing a fluorescent marker were identified in lymphoid organs and the central nervous system, but there was no evidence the MSCs actually transformed into neural cells, suggesting they influence resident cellular repair processes rather than directly replacing cells of the damaged tissue.
This avenue of research shed light on key cellular and molecular mechanisms of this particular stem cell therapy. I’m excited to see that basic research using MSCs may be translated to the clinic, leading to new treatment strategies against multiple sclerosis. Continuing to assess new cell-based therapies through carefully designed preclinical studies may offer new hope to patients struggling with this terrible disease.