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Photo: 34D6: stem cell derived oligodendrocytes

MS in a dish

David Schley

Stem cells are a powerful tool to help us understand what happens in MS.

Reprogramming your cells

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.

A new tool to study MS

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.

Finding new treatments for MS

By using skin samples taken from people with MS, the researchers can grow nerve cells and oligodendrocytes that ’model’ the condition. Add in some immune cells and you have an insightful tool to study human MS in a laboratory dish.

> Watch researcher Prof Chris Linington talk about his work looking at immune cells in the lab as part of our Meet the Researchers series on YouTube

Right now, the team in Edinburgh are using these cells to screen potential drugs and to learn more about what happens in progressive MS.

This blog first appeared in Research Matters magazine. If you’d like to receive Research Matters by post, email [email protected] to ask about subscription. You can also download the full issue for free.

Photo: Chandran lab