Could Fetal Stem Cell Transplants Treat Multiple Sclerosis?

Currently, there are no cures for multiple sclerosis (MS). Treatment options typically focus on slowing disease progression, reducing relapses, and managing symptoms. Patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis often experience episodes, while those with progressive MS have their condition continue to worsen. New therapeutic options could not only change the treatment landscape, but could significantly improve patient outcomes. 

According to an article in New Scientist, researchers are exploring neural stem cell transplantation—with the stem cells transplanted from fetuses—as a potential therapeutic option for progressive MS. Neural stem cells are self-renewing cells which give rise to neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes (all cells within the nervous system).

Researching Neural Stem Cell Transplants

To begin, the research team extracted neural stem cells from a fetus no older than 12 weeks (approx. 3 months) that had been donated for medical research. Next, the research team injected four dose formulations of neural stem cells into the spinal canal of twelve adults with progressive multiple sclerosis. 

The preliminary results of the study, published in Nature Medicine, found that:

  • Neural stem cell transplant was safe and well-tolerated. No serious adverse reactions were reported within the two-year trial follow-up. 
  • Within three months of initial dosing, patients saw increased neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory molecules within cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), highlighting the therapy’s efficacy. 
  • Patients who received the highest doses of neural stem cells saw less neurodegeneration than those taking lower doses.

Although these results are promising, there were some areas where the treatment seemed less efficacious. For example, the neural stem cell treatment did not improve motor speed. However, it did prevent disease progression. So more research is needed to determine the long-lasting effects of neural stem cell transplants and whether this could, at some point, be an actual therapeutic option for MS. 

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? 

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition that affects the central nervous system (CNS). This condition is largely considered to be an autoimmune disorder; in this case, the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath, or the protective covering of nerve fibers. Doctors believe this occurs following some sort of trigger. Women are 2x more likely to develop MS than men. Other risk factors include being between 20-40 years old, smoking cigarettes, and vitamin D and B12 deficiencies.

Symptoms related to multiple sclerosis can include muscle weakness, numbness, and tingling; fatigue; bowel and bladder issues; dizziness and vertigo; sexual dysfunction; an electric shock sensation called Lhermitte’s sign; tremor; pain; gait and mobility issues; and learning and memory difficulties. This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms. 

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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