Research offers hope for treatments to repair MS damage

Damage caused by multiple sclerosis could possibly be reversed by activating stem cells that can repair injury, a study has shown. Researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh have identified a mechanism essential for regenerating myelin sheaths. And the scientists believe that this research will help identify drugs to encourage myelin repair for those with MS.

In MS patients, the potential for remyelination is limited, as this process doesn't appear to get activated. Using a rat model, scientists in Cambridge and Edinburgh have been studying why this pathway fails in these patients and whether they might encourage the stem cells present in the brain to regenerate myelin more efficiently and repair the damage that has occurred. Armed with samples from the U.K.'s MS Society's Tissue Bank, they identified a specific type of molecule called RXR-gamma, which appears to be important in promoting myelin repair, according to an MS Society statement. They found that targeting RXR-gamma in laboratory models of MS encouraged the brain's own stem cells to regenerate myelin.

"Our results indicate that RXR-γ is a positive regulator of endogenous oligodendrocyte precursor cell differentiation and remyelination and might be a pharmacological target for regenerative therapy in the CNS," the authors say in the study.

"The aim of our research is to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis with the eventual aim of stopping and reversing it," explains Professor Charles ffrench-Constant, of the University of Edinburgh's MS Society Center for Multiple Sclerosis Research. "This discovery is very exciting as it could potentially pave the way to find drugs that could help repair damage caused to the important layers that protect nerve cells in the brain."

The researchers cautioned that it will be some time before this research translates into a potential treatment. It could be around five years before a first small-scale trial in humans can be carried out and another five to 10 years before a treatment might become available, according to an MS Trust statement. The study, funded by the MS Society and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the U.S., is published in Nature Neuroscience.

- get the Cambridge University statement
- check out the MS Trust release
- read the MS Society's statement
- check out the study published in Nature Neuroscience