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Stem Cells Treat Multiple Sclerosis in Mice

Human embryonic stem cells — the body’s powerful master cells — might be useful for treating multiple sclerosis, researchers reported Thursday.

A team has used cells taken from frozen human embryos and transformed them into a type of cell that scientists have hoped might help treat patients with MS, a debilitating nerve disease.

Mice with an induced version of MS that paralyzed them were able to walk freely after the treatment, the teams at Advanced Cell Technology and ImStem Biotechnology in Farmington, Connecticut, reported.

The cells appeared to travel to the damaged tissues in the mice, toning down the mistaken immune system response that strips the fatty protective layer off of nerve calls. It’s that damage that causes symptoms ranging from tremors and loss of balance to blurry vision and paralysis.

These embryonic stem cells were carefully nurtured to make them form a type of immature cell called a mesenchymal stem cell. These cells worked better to treat the mice than naturally developed mesenchymal stem cells taken directly from bone marrow, the team wrote in the journal Stem Cell Reports, published by the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The top mouse is paralyzed, while the mouse on the bottom was treated with human embryonic stem cells and is able to run around.COURTESY OF DR. XIAOFANG WANG AND DR. REN-HE XU/IMSTEM BIOTECHNOLOGY INC

The company released a video to show the benefits. Untreated mice were suffering. “They are paralyzed. They on their backs. They are dragging their limbs. They are in really sad shape,” ACT’s chief scientific officer, Dr. Bob Lanza, told NBC News.

“Treated animals, they are walking and jumping around just like normal mice.”

Lanza says human trials are many months away, but he thinks it will not be necessary to use controversial cloning technology to make perfectly matched human embryonic stem cells to treat patients.

“We can use an off-the-shelf source and it’ll work for everyone,” he said. “So you can use them and not worry about rejection.”

The company is also testing stem cells for treating a form of blindness.