Changing skin cells into neural stem cells could lead to new MS treatment, study

A new treatment for people with multiple sclerosis, based upon an innovative scientific process may be on the horizon.

In a nutshell, skin cells would be reprogrammed into brain stem cells, then transplanting them into the central nervous system. A study using mice shows these stem cells may reduce inflammation and reverse the nerve cell damage in progressive MS.

A satisfactory outcome may be a long way off, but any development of another treatment for progressive MS is welcome.

stem cellsResearchers at the University of Cambridge, in the UK, are behind the study. Their report, “Macrophage-Derived Extracellular Succinate Licenses Neural Stem Cells to Suppress Chronic Neuroinflammation”, appeared in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Microphages that live in the brain and spinal cord are called microglia. Although they protect the body, microglia can participate in the development of progressive forms of MS. They do this by attacking the central nervous system, causing nerve cell damage.

Neural stem cells are able to differentiate into any type of nerve cell. They are thought to regulate immune response and inflammation in the central nervous system.

While researchers, in the past, have collected neural stem cells from embryos, they were unable to gather enough cells for treatments. This caused University of Cambridge scientists to decide to try reprogramming skin cells into neural stem cells.

Less chance of attack

The premise of the mouse study was to use autologous skin cells – that is to collect them from the same person who will receive them. In this way, researchers thought that there will be less chance that the immune system will attack the stem cells.

Transplanting neural stem cells and progenitors of these stem cells into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice:

  • improved the animals’ chronic nerve cell inflammation;
  • reduced the animals’ succinate levels and switched their macrophages and microglia from a pro- to an anti-inflammatory state;
  • led to a decrease in inflammation and less damage to the central nervous system.
stem cells

Dr Stefano Pluchino.

Dr Stefano Pluchino, a principal researcher in Cambridge’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences, is the study’s lead author. He said: “Our mouse study suggests that using a patient’s reprogrammed cells could provide a route to personalized treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases, including progressive forms of MS.

“This is particularly promising as these cells should be more readily obtainable than conventional neural stem cells and would not carry the risk of an adverse immune response.”

Wellcome Trust research training fellow Luca Peruzzotti-Jametti said the discovery would not have been possible without a multidisciplinary collaboration. “We made this discovery by bringing together researchers from diverse fields, including regenerative medicine, cancer, mitochondrial biology, inflammation and stroke, and cellular reprogramming.”

* * * * *

Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

* * * * *

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Opinions are divided over suitability of stem cell transplants as treatment for progressive MS

panorama Hallamshire%20web%20ready ms-trust-logo          From left: BBC programme Panorama, Royal Hallamshire Hospital; and Multiple Sclerosis Trust.

Great interest was stirred up, quite predictably, by Panorama programme Can you stop my Multiple Sclerosis? broadcast on January 20. That followed four patients with relapsing remitting MS as they underwent Autologous Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (AHCST or HCST) therapy at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, in Yorkshire, UK. See my earlier blog post Can Multiple Sclerosis be stopped? Maybe some can at for more details.

Afterwards, some asked whether the stem cell treatment would also work for people with primary or secondary progressive MS.

Opinions seem divided. The people behind the treatment featured on BBC’s Panorama say: “Unfortunately the trials performed to date show that AHSCT does not work as well in primary and secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. In view of this data, at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust we are only treating people with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis.”

However, writing on The MS Trust’s Facebook page, Gwen Higgs gave a different answer to that question. She wrote: “HSCT absolutely works for progressive MS! I had successful HSCT for my PPMS eighteen months ago.” Then Gwen added these links: and

On its website, the Multiple Sclerosis Trust was a little more cautious, saying that AHSCT could work for those with the progressive variants of the illness and published a blog by Jane of its Information Team. In that, she looks at some of the research so far, what’s possible now and where we might expect to see further progress in the future.

Answering the question ‘does AHSCT work for progressive MS?’, Jane says: “Sometimes it does, although it seems to work well only if your MS has a mix of progression with inflammatory activity.” Read more here:

Looks like it is another case of ‘wait and see’!