Stem cell hope for MS

MODIFIED adult stem cells may hold the key to a new treatment for multiple sclerosis, according to University of Adelaide researchers, speaking during ‘Kiss Goodbye to MS’ month.

The researchers have started a three-year research project using adult stem cells from fat tissue to send cells with special anti-inflammatory properties directly to the damaged site in the central nervous system (CNS).

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease of the brain and spinal cord.  

To control the disease, effective treatments need to control the immune response and repair the damage caused to the fatty myelin sheaths which protect the nerves.

“With previous work, we’ve already shown that adult stem cells have great potential to both control the immune response and promote repair of the central nervous system. 

"It also prevents further damage,” Professor Shaun McColl, director of the Centre for Molecular Pathology," said.

“But the trick is getting the stem cells to the right location where they can perform this function.”

When stem cells are injected into the blood system, very few cross the blood/brain barrier into the CNS. 

The researchers are manipulating adult stem cells from fat tissue (adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells) so more enter the CNS.

“This project is about targeting the stem cells to the site of inflammation and damage so they can better control the immune response and repair the myelin,” lead investigator Dr Iain Comerford said.

“It involves promoting stem cell migration to the central nervous system by manipulating receptors on the surface of the stem cells that control cell movement.

“We’re also modifying the stem cells to suppress the immune response by introducing molecules that regulate inflammation,” Dr Comerford said.

"By the end of three years we aim to show that we can successfully modify stem cells to more effectively reach the central nervous system, and that we can use these cells to inhibit inflammation. 

"If it works, there is great potential for a new therapy for this debilitating disease.”

The research is taking place in the University’s Chemokine Biology Laboratory within the School of Molecular and Biomedical Science and the Centre for Molecular Pathology. 

The project is in collaboration with researchers at Monash University and has been funded by MS Research Australia.