Cell transplants shown to protect against MS-like disease in mice

The body naturally repairs some myelin damaged by MS. But not enough to keep up with the disease.

Could transplanting healthy brain cells stop MS in its tracks? A recent study of mice with an MS-like disease has shown surprising promise.

A group of researchers at San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy, injected neural stem cells, taken from the brains of healthy adult mice, into the blood of mice with EAE, an MS-like disease. Some mice were injected at the onset of disease, and others at the onset of the first relapse.

The results surprised the investigators because the cells not only helped repair damaged tissue, they appeared to be able to turn off the immune attacks. Mice injected at disease onset started to recover in 30 to 60 days, and had half as many relapses as the untreated mice. Mice injected at the first relapse started to recover later than those injected at disease onset, but they did better clinically than the untreated group. Both groups showed a significant reduction in the extent of myelin damage and nerve fiber loss compared with untreated mice.

The results of this study, funded in part by the National MS Society, were published in the July 14, 2005, issue of Nature. Further research is needed to confirm these results and to address many issues involved in translating such experiments from mice into clinical trials for people with MS.