Stem cellsStem cells are a hugely exciting area of research. As well as being a key research tool, they’re also being developed as treatments for MS, like HSCT.
Find out more about stem cells
What are stem cells
Most cells in the body, like skin or nerve cells, carry out very specific roles and are called specialised cells. Stem cells are different because they’re not specialised, which means they can become lots of different types of cell, like skin cells or immune cells. They’re really important during development, and also to repair damage and replace cells as we age.
There are lots of different kinds of stem cells in our bodies, called adult stem cells. Unlike embryonic stem cells, these can’t make all the cells in our bodies - what cells they produce will depend on the type of stem cell in question and where it’s found.
Stem cell treatments for MS
There are a number of stem cell therapies being developed specifically for MS, including haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) and mesenchymal stem cell therapy (MSCT).
But there are many others that have never been trialled in MS. In July 2017 experts called for tighter regulation of unproven stem cell treatments and how they are marketed.
Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT)
HSCT is an intense chemotherapy treatment for MS. It aims to stop the damage MS causes by wiping out and then regrowing your immune system, using your stem cells.
Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy
(MSCT) Mesenchymal stem cells are found in many parts of the body and are usually taken from bone marrow, skin and fat tissue.
They can produce many different types of cells, including muscle and cartilage, and early research suggests they could help promote remyelination and have a positive effect on the immune system.
In MS, immune cells attack the protective myelin coating around our nerve cells. When myelin becomes damaged, messages find it harder to get through – or can’t get through at all. That’s what causes the symptoms of MS.
Our bodies have an amazing capacity to repair myelin and get nerves working properly again, making use of a type of stem cell found in our brains. If we understand how these stem cells work, and what goes wrong in MS, we could design treatments to repair myelin damage in MS.
Our stem cell research
We’re funding a number of stem cell research projects:
- A clinical trial testing mesenchymal stem cell therapy
- How do mesenchymal stem cells work in secondary progressive MS?
We’ve also funded a project that investigated the impact that HSCT has on the immune system. Researchers looked for differences in the immune system of people with MS before and after HSCT. This project will help us to better understand how HSCT may reduce the damage seen in MS.