Nerve cells use myelin
as a type of cellular insulation, like the plastic around electrical wires, in
order to communicate with one another effectively. When myelin integrity is compromised,
as in MS and Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, signalling between nerve cells
The precursor cells
were then injected into newborn mice with the equivalent of a human myelin
disease. This technique safely
and successfully restored myelin around the affected nerves to normal levels. On
average, the life span of the treated mice exceeded that of the untreated mice.
This is the first
report of using hiPSCs to restore cell-to-cell signalling in neurons. Researchers
have previously favoured the use of embryonic or neuronal stem cells as
potential treatments for myelin diseases. But because researchers cannot readily
acquire these cells from individual patients, the possibility of immune
rejection may limit these approaches.
hiPSC technology may
offer a way of circumventing this issue. The paper notes that hiPSCs could
theoretically be generated from a patient's own skin and used in their
treatment. The authors warn, however, that this technique is 'not completely
free of rejection risk'.
Steven Goldman, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in the
USA, who led the study, said: 'The study strongly supports the utility of
hiPSCs as a feasible and effective source of cells to treat myelin disorders'.
He added: 'In fact, the
re-myelination process appeared more rapid and efficient than with other cell
However, as an earlier article on potential cell
therapy techniques for myelin diseases by experts Professor
Robin Franklin and Professor
Charles Ffrench-Constant cautions, 'the effectiveness
of any remyelination therapy depends on the ability to suppress the effect of
any ongoing disease process on the new oligodendrocytes'.
Goldman said that he and his colleagues intend to include the technique in a clinical trial due to begin in 2015.