Scientists have successfully used frozen human cells taken from nerve tissue to restore nerve conduction in an animal model of multiple sclerosis.
"Such cells could potentially be used in humans for a clinical trial in demyelinating disorders, such as multiple sclerosis," says Jeffery Kocsis, PhD, of the Yale University School of Medicine. The study, funded primarily by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Institutes of Health, appears in the February 1 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
"This raises the possibility that a patient's own cells may be used to repair demyelinating diseases," says Moses Chao, PhD, a neurobiologist at New York University School of Medicine.
The most common nervous system disease of young adults after epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a life-long ailment of unknown origin that affects some 300,000 Americans. The most common symptoms are blurred vision, awkward gait, numbness and fatigue. MS strikes individuals who are mainly between the ages of 20 and 40. It results in earning losses of about $2 billion annually.
In diseases such as MS, some of the myelin - insulating material of a nerve cell's axon that sends messages - in the brain or spinal cord is damaged. This leads to various neurological problems. Special cells, known as Schwann cells, make myelin.
In the new study, Kocsis and his colleagues prepared Schwann cells from human nerves taken from amputated limbs. The cells were frozen and stored for weeks to months. The frozen cells were then reconstituted and injected with a fine glass needle into a demyelinated lesion in the rat spinal cord. The researchers found that the human Schwann cells formed relatively extensive myelin in the damaged rat spinal cord and that nerve impulse conduction was improved by the cell transplantation procedure.
Possibly in the future, cells could be harvested and with a nerve biopsy directly from the patient who needs the transplant treatment and grown in larger numbers, making immunosuppressive drugs unnecessary. The scientists caution that it is unclear whether these cells will work as well if transplanted into a large lesion in an MS patient. However, they are encouraged by the observation that the cells have repair potential in animals.
Kocsis's co-authors include Ikuhide Kohama, MD, PhD; Karen Lankford, PhD; Jana Preiningerova, PhD; Fletcher White, PhD; and Timothy Vollmer, MD; of Yale and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Haven, CT. Kohama, Lankford, White, Vollmer and Kocsis are members of the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of more than 28,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system. Vollmer can be reached at 203-785-4086. The Society publishes The Journal of Neuroscience.