Lab Canada

Cross-border team looks at stem cells to repair MS damage; $2.25M helps work continue

Calgary, AB – Three North American research centres are examining the body’s own stem cells in hopes that they may hold the key to repairing damage caused by multiple sclerosis. If successful, people with MS may be able to regain losses of physical ability caused by the often- debilitating disease.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and related MS Scientific Research Foundation announced the funding of $2.25 million to allow scientists from the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in Calgary, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and Montreal Neurological Institute to continue their ground-breaking work.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to take a new approach in treating MS,” says Dr Samuel Weiss, the lead scientist from the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, a partnership of the University of Calgary and the Calgary Health Region. “We will be combining repair therapies, pioneered by the three centres, in ways that have never been tested before in the course of MS research.”

In earlier work, researchers used stem cells to generate myelin-producing oligodendrocytes. Myelin is the vital protective covering of the brain and spinal cord that is damaged during MS attacks, resulting in a wide array of symptoms including vision problems, tingling, lack of coordination and sometimes, paralysis.

They also pioneered new ways of using magnetic resonance imaging to measure, non-invasively, the production of new myelin and the rate of functional recovery from MS. The ability to generate myelin and measure its impact is key to reducing MS disability.

With the new funding, scientists will investigate whether adult human stem cells can be stimulated to create myelin. In essence, they will determine if there is an “on” switch that can kick-start the remyelination process for people who have MS.

“The study looks to using an individual’s own stem cells to repair the damage caused by MS,” says Dr Jack Antel, lead researcher from the Montreal Neurological Institute.

“In the future, we hope to turn this data into human clinical trials to determine whether people who have MS will actually experience a decrease in disability,” adds Dr Moses Rodriguez, lead researcher from the Mayo Clinic. “This would be an extraordinary step in the fight against this disease.”

Also involved in the study are Dr Jeffrey Dunn and Dr Wee Yong from the University of Calgary, Dr Douglas Arnold from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Dr Arthur Warrington from the Mayo Clinic.