2018 has seen significant progress for MS research, but there's been disappointment too. Our new Research Strategy ensures we continue to be at the forefront of science delivering real change for people living with MS.
For decades people believed the brain was a fixed system that couldn’t regenerate or repair itself. But in 1998, a group of Swedish scientists showed that new nerve cells could form in the adult brain. Further research found that these new nerves developed from a type of stem cell, called a neural stem cell. This revolutionised researchers’ hopes for treating MS. Their focus has been on how to encourage neural stem cells to develop into oligodendrocytes - the cells that can repair myelin.
Imagine being able to take a human skin cell and change it into a nerve cell, or a myelin-making cell, or an immune cell - just by adding a few chemicals. It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but thanks to the work of Nobel Prize winners Sir John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka, it’s now a reality. Researchers can take skin samples from a person and, in the lab, push these adult cells back into being stem cells. These ‘induced’ stem cells have the potential to become any cell in the body. Because of this, they are known as ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’, or iPS cells. iPS cell technology has opened up a whole new avenue of research, which our scientists at the MS Society Edinburgh Centre for MS Research are taking full advantage of. Led by Professors Charles ffrench-Constant and Siddharthan Chandran, they’re using iPS cells to grow unlimited numbers of human-derived nerve cells and myelin-making oligodendrocytes in a dish.
On 16 January 1998, Professor Richard Reynolds set off to personally collect the first human brain for the MS Society Tissue Bank at Imperial College. Since then, the centre has grown to become a vital resource for researchers all over the world.
MSCT (or mesenchymal stem cell therapy) is an exciting new area of research being explored as an MS treatment. And it was featured in a Channel 4 documentary which followed lawyer Mark Lewis as he took part in an MSCT trial in Jerusalem.
We now know enough about what goes wrong in MS to know what needs to be done to fix it. Scientists are working on three ways to tackle MS: stopping the immune damage, promoting myelin repair and protecting nerves from damage. We're not there yet, but we believe that if we achieve these goals then we can stop MS.