Sick Stem Cells Point to Better MS Drugs

The young and the useless. Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells like these never mature properly in patients with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.Doctors seeking a cure for an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis keep chasing a mirage: no matter how well a drug works in the lab, it never seems to help many patients in the clinic. But after closely examining stem cells from patients and their families, researchers think they know why the drugs coming out of labs are duds. Neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Crocker, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at UConn Health, and colleagues offer an explanation in the Feb. 1 issue of Experimental Neurology.

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) suffer from vision loss, pain, and paralysis that grows worse over time. The symptoms are from stray electrical signals in the nervous system. Our nerves operate like electrical wires, and just like wires, they need insulation around them. The insulation around our nerves is a substance called myelin, made by other cells in the brain called oligodendrocytes. For reasons that are not yet understood, the oligodendrocytes in people with multiple sclerosis don’t reliably repair the myelin. So people with MS gradually lose myelin, and their nerves start to short out like frayed wires, and eventually these neurons die.

Most kinds of MS have a pattern of illness and then remission: symptoms flare up, then go away, then flare up again. There are effective drugs that help patients extend the periods of remission, and someone diagnosed with MS in his or her 20s may live comfortably for decades. But primary progressive MS (PPMS) is different. Patients diagnosed with PPMS… (more)